Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who is the Arrogant Preacher?

This is a good little video from Doug Wilson on what arrogance in the pulpit really looks like:

Rob Bell and the nature of Arrogance from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

I once had someone tell me that I should share more of what God is teaching me in the pulpit. This is just a good video for you to think about what preaching should look like. Early in my ministry I had someone write me a personal note asking me to interact with people more from the pulpit. I was directly asked to share more in the pulpit what God was teaching me in my personal life.

Now this note did led me to reconsider somethings and I did learn much from the comment--particularly that a pastor must cultivate and show the heart of a shepherd. Hopefully I have grown in that area and I continue to grow and want to grow.

However, one thing I could not in good conscience do was make the preaching of God's Word a time to share about what God is teaching me. Now if this person meant: show what God's Word says and how to clearly know that based upon my study, then I'd agree. But I believe the note meant that I was supposed to add more of myself and my experience to the message. That is was not enough to say 'thus saith the Lord' but rather I was to add more authenticity through personal story. I was to open myself up and peal back the layer of how God was dealing with me so that people could see my journey and experiences. That may be good for personal friendship and discussion but that is not the purpose of preaching God's Word. In preaching, I, the preacher, must decrease and He must increase. 

Preaching is not a chance for me to emote on how personal the journey is for me, how deep God is dealing with me. It's time for Word of God to be made clear. People are not to be compelled by my emoting but rather by the Word of God.

This does not of course mean that the pastor should not share his life. Paul says: "So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us" (1 Thes. 2:8). However, my life is not shared in the pulpit, the pulpit is the place for the Word of God to be heard with all reverence and humility.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Book Review: The Gospel Commission

Michael Horton's new book "The Gospel Commission: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples" is an excellent book on the Great Commission and it's implication in a number of areas. I think it would be a book worth your time and reading.

It is a mix of covenant/Reformed theology and missional theology. It has three sections. It lays out the strength that Jesus has in the "all authority" of the Great Commission. He makes a number of references to Christopher Wright's the Mission of God.

He takes on a couple issues: (1) that pitting Jesus & the kingdom vs. Paul and the gospel. He states clearly the kingdom is the gospel and the gospel is the kingdom. Part 2 is the Mission Statement and Part 3 is the Strategic Plan.

The book is not so much an exegetical treatment of the kingdom's unfolding, although it is clearly grounded in that. Rather the book covers those practical issues of the kingdom as it relates to the Great Commission. On important area is the current discussion about the role of mercy ministries and the role of Christians in culture. I believe Horton's book charts an excellent pathway through the issues. What he says briefly about politics is helpful.

(2) He distinguishes between the church its mission as the church (organization) vs. the Christian and their calling as Christians with differing vocations. So in my mind one of the weaknesses of the missional and kingdom approach is that so often we are told that mercy ministry is doing the kingdom and this can come at the expense of preaching the gospel (none of us would hold that, but it is out there)-- Horton gets beyond this by returning to a two kingdom doctrine--that we can be called to go out into the world and be salt.

Horton does discuss briefly the role of the diaconate--but not to the extent that Tim Keller deals with it in say his Ministries of Mercy.

One thing notable Horton writes: "We often seem more eager to say that the early Christians weren't communists than we are to say what these texts clearly affirm: namely, that in a real sense, giving to the needs of the poor among us is not charity but justice--not the justice that is appropriate for the kingdom of this age, but the justice that can only be a foretaste of the age of come." (p222).

It is a very helpful book in terms of theory, it also gets into some issues of practice by arguing that the church's main focus is on preaching, sacraments and making disciples. So rather than expanding the church's mission to include ever social issue, he limits the role of the church but then argues the church equips Christians to be Christians and that entails each having their own vocations in the world. So he is real clear about the church not becoming beholden to political agendas on the left and the right but Christians living out their convictions can work in the sphere of common grace. Horton argues that if the church focuses on its mission as the church the people will be equips for their vocations but the church should not as the church take up every vocation. Distraction from its mission has led evangelicalism to the fiasco it is in today--little Bible knowledge and Therapeutic Moralist Deism--or 'Christless Christianity'.

The book ends with a defense of Biblical spirituality. He points to an ironic inconsistency in the emerging church that it is against escapism but it finds inner renewal spirituality compelling. He also points out the difference between living the gospel vs. proclaiming the gospel. 

One cannot read this book without being impressed by the Biblical exegesis that informs Horton's work and the wide scope of his reading and citation of sources from liberal theologians, emerging church writers, Biblical studies scholarship, etc. This is classic of all of Horton's work, particularly his 4 volume academic series in theology. But this book is pastoral in its heart taking on issues for the sake of church practice.

Not everyone will agree with all of the applications of Horton's Two Kingdom approach but in general they path he charts does seek to guard us from over-realizing the present position of the Christian and NT eschatology. This book will challenge your thinking and provides a healthy balance in responding to the issues of the day while fairly representing them. Those who are involved in the missional church should read this. Those concerned with the Kingdom of God should read this book for its implications in the church. Those concerned to see Christians engage the culture should read this book so that they understand the nature of their task.

Love Wins Now

"To a man, universalists are semi-pelagian in their views but suddenly after death apparently everything becomes Calvinistic. The love of God is overwhelming. The love of God is irresistible. The love of God cannot be stopped. But you see the principle of the New Testament is God does not change because we die. His love is already overwhelming. His love is already irresistible. There is no more love of God to be demonstrated, beloved, than in immolation of our Savior on the Cross and the zealous pursuit of his effacious work in the hearts of men and women by the power of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing more God can do. There is no more love he can demonstrate. There is no more irresistible grace than the grace which effects our salvation here and now." --Sinclair Ferguson "Universalism and the Reality Eternal Punishment: The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment" preached at Desiring God Conference 1-29-90 (at about 1hr 02 min) 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Speaking of Honor

On my last post I mentioned that Dad's need to step it up and be dads to their daughters.

Now I found this and yup that's part of what I was talking about.


My city is filled with broken young women who have been devastated by young men. As a pastor, I have a front-row seat to the heart-wrenching carnage on a daily basis. Surprisingly, abuse often happens during the high school years through dad-sanctioned dating relationships. So many Christian dads pay so little attention to the young men their daughters date. Many of these same men will spend more time dutifully researching Consumer Reports for electronic gadget purchases or test-driving cars than they do investigating the boys who romantically pursue their daughters. They forfeit their responsibility and horrendously fail their precious daughters...

Dads must carefully consider the following as they shepherd their daughters through the minefield of romantic relationships:
  1. Idolatry is a greater initial threat than sexual immorality for your daughter as she relates to boys. Spiritually and emotionally immature young women will always struggle to love Jesus more than a boyfriend when given the chance. And Jesus teaches us it is from the heart (the place of worship and idolatry) that immorality flows (Matthew 15:17-19);
  2. It is most important that a young man respect you and fear the consequences of mistreating your daughter. You can’t be a buddy to your daughter’s boyfriend and her bodyguard simultaneously (1 Timothy 5:1-2); and,
  3. An exclusive and serious relationship really can’t go anywhere profitable for your daughter until she is mature enough for marriage (Song of Solomon 3:5).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Protecting A Daughter's Honor

On my twitter feed I found posted a link to this article. It challenges mom's to resist the culture of buying push-up bras for their 8-12 year olds.

I know I’m preaching to the choir. But you and I have to care about the girl whose mom DOES buy her that itty bitty bikini because one thing is clear, the fashion industry doesn’t. The leaders in the industry are aware that creating and marketing age inappropriate clothing creates significant emotional disorders and an early sexual debut in our daughters. They care only about the bottom line. The bottom line is that tweens are a lucrative demographic, commanding about $43 billion of spending power nationwide. Girls 8-12 spend about $500 million a year on beauty products alone. (Mascara and eye liner sales doubled in this age range last year.)

It's by a mom and written for a mom. Amen to mom's who stand up and tell their daughter's "no" and try to raise them to not only be aware of the culture's view of sexuality but to resist it. No complaints from me. 

Here's the thing. What if the bigger issue is not mom's who don't do enough (or are doing enough)--what if the bigger issues is daddy's who do not stand up for their little girls. What if the bigger issue is that Daddy's do not gentle and in real love protect their daughters honor. When Dad's don't give their daughter unconditional love, they are more prone to fall into these lures and act inappropriately to win boys' "affection."

This deserves more treatment than just a short blog post. Meg Meeker's book "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know" points to research and studies that the real difference made in a young girls life is a Father who (a) loves her; (b) protects her and (c) lovingly sets boundaries. (If I had the book with me write now I'd give some stats and quotes, but it's at the office, and this is a short Sat night post--but take my word, there is research--see my review on the blog).

Consider the regrets that Billy Ray Cyrus is now having over Miley Cyrus. He was her friend before he was her father.

I'm glad a mom is taking up this challenge. Hurah! Again no arguments with the original article: but the real challenge, I think is for Father's to take this up.

Somehow, men think that their job is to turn boys into men. We can make a man out of a son. Teach him to do manly thing. The 'women folk' will make the daughters.--and I said it that way to show you how absurd it is when you think about it.

Men: God has called you to raise daughters. 

Men who have daughters should be concerned with this 'sexing up' of the American teenager--girls dressing like lionnesses on the hunt--and for what. This is what happens when men do not love their little girls unconditional and protect their honor because they cherish their girls. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Narcissism vs. Christ

Consider this:
"When the Associated Press covered our study on narcissism increasing over the generations in 2007, dozens of college students disputed the notion that their peers were self-centered; instead, they argued that their generation's narcissism was perfectly acceptable. Interviewed in The Daily Pennsylvanian, University of Pennsylvania freshman Kyle Johnson said, "This extreme self-esteem [is] justified since this generation will be remembered as the greatest generation of all time." San Diego State University junior Camille Clasby protested in the Daily Aztec, "But we are special. There's nothing wrong with knowing that. It's not vanity that this generation exhibits--it's pride. And it's no wonder with all that we are accomplishing that we have a lot to be proud of." That might be true, but so did earlier generations, and they weren't as narcissistic. This statement resembles the classic narcissistic confusion between thinking you're great and actually being great." The Narcissism Epidemic, p39.

And compare it to this:
Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This generation assumes that it's attitude about itself is justified because it assumes that it is special and will accomplish great things. Therefore the thinking goes that the attitude is justified. However, notice with Christ, the attitude would indeed be justified for him to exalt himself. He could have considered equality with God 'a think to be used to his own advantage' [the literal meaning of 'did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped']. He is equal with God and He existed in the form of God. However he is totally willing to humble himself and become more lowly than all the rest. Rather than taking his position and acknowledging 'I am the greatest and I will do great things, far beyond all other beings' he instead makes himself lowly and dies for the sake of others without any thought of himself and his own greatness.

The one who has all justification for exalting himself does not exalt himself but allows his heavenly father to raise him up and exalt him. Those who do not have an justifiable reason other than hubris and every reason to remain humble until history is written are instead exalting themselves before due time.

The pattern of Scripture is that God makes the prideful low but raises up the humble.
1 Samuel 2:2 “There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. 3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. 4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. 5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. 6 The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. 8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and on them he has set the world. 
It is extremely dangerous to assume that this generation has so much potential that it is 'destined' to outshine all previous generations. It may be that we are technologically more advanced but that hardly means that this generation will accomplish great things. We should not predict how the history books are written before events unfold. Christians are not immune to this either. There are those out there who are already predicting that this generation is a great shift that will advance Christianity forward in great ways. Some even justify it arguing that great shifts in Christianity unfold ever 500 years and so like clock work we are destined for something new and great to unfold. Now history doesn't even have to be written by the victor it can be written by the dreamer before it unfolds. 

The Christian attitude should be less optimistic about our yet unaccomplished feats, whether personal or institutional. If we take the example of Christ seriously, we should be humbling ourselves and allow the Father to raise us up in due time, if that is even his will for us.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Divisive Dividers

Jude gives us insight into who causes divisions and how the church should respond:
Jude17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
1. When unbelief arises and people stand out who scoff the truth, it is the not person who cries "foul" who is the divisive one but rather the person who hit the ball. The scoffer following ungodly passion--the person not holding to the faith given the saints once for all or the person not practicing biblical piety--they are causing the division. They are devoid of God's Holy Spirit. 

2. The person who sees this however, is supposed to people careful that they keep themselves in the love of God. They should watch their own doctrine so that they do not become a scoffer, they should also watch their practice. We must continue to wait for God's mercy. This means we should not become self-righteous about pointing out divisive people when we must. We must point it out, but we do so in view of God's mercy that we've received from Jesus and not with haughtiness. 

3. Undoubtedly when scoffers arise there will be those who are tempted to jump on the bandwagon. There will be a third category: the person that begins to doubt. We who are remaining in the love of God are to be merciful towards them. We understand their struggle and we lovingly point them back to the truth while we recognize the reality of their doubts. We also need, I think, to recognize that doubt can be existentially hard on a person. Here we can graciously assure them of God's truth, God's love and God's grace. You don't shoot a sheep that is wounded, you shoot the wolves and nurse the sheep back to health.

4. We are to show mercy by snatching others out the fire. We get them at the last minute as it were. We point out their grave error in a loving manner. But when we contend for the faith and proclaim the THE faith, when they turn through the Holy Spirit's use of the Word of God, they have been reclaimed at from the fire itself. It is entirely proper to point out the errors of a person in order to save them from the fire when we have the authority of God's Word to tell us what an error is.

5. Finally we can show mercy to the person stuck in sin at the same time we hate the garments stained with sin. Some "Christians" are entirely vindictive against the sinner or the Christian stuck in sin. They will jump to conclusions about the persons eternal state. Some "Christians" feel that any mercy towards a struggling sinner is somehow capitulating to the flesh and wickedness of sin. Jude tells us that opposite. Our Lord Jesus shows us the opposite.

The Book of Jude shows us that we can handle the divisive divider and love orthodoxy. It is the one who departs from orthodoxy first who is the divisive one not the person who comes along and say "whoa wait a minute." A passion for orthodoxy, a nose for the real (not imagined) heretic, hating and a merciful heart are something that should be united by God's Spirit in the heart of all who are in union with Christ.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Anti-Capitalism Attacks the Poor

Capitalism efficiently delivers goods and services, but it is not a perfect system—far from it. To be sure, capitalism has costs of various kinds. It is a key insight of modern economics, however, that all solutions to a given problem have costs, and we delude ourselves if we think we can find a perfect (in the sense of costless) solution. Despite its costs, capitalism has raised up from poverty hundreds of millions of human beings, fed, housed, and clothed them vastly better than their ancestors, lengthened their lives and preserved them from disease—and all in ways that people living in early ages could not possibly have imagined. When people respond to the financial incentives capitalism creates, they often are not doing much to improve their souls, but the capitalist system has done more—much more—to improve the material conditions of mankind than all the corporal works of mercy performed by all the Christian saints throughout the ages. For this reason a foundational attack on capitalism is an attack on the material well-being of the human race and especially an attack on the poor, who have been most helped by capitalism. (emphasis mine)
There is of course, a differences between a Christian critique of the dangers and abuse of the capitalism by the practicers of capitalism and a critique/rejection of capitalism. There is also a difference between capitalism and crony capitalism.

Furthermore, as the article later points out one say "that capitalism is the cause of greed, for greed is a universal human failing known in all cultures." 

One common fallacy in critiquing capitalism is labeling it as materialism or even consumerism. These things are not equivocal. We cannot assume that capitalism teaches that the end of life is acquiring more and more possessions. That may be the object of materialism but not necessarily capitalism. This would be a category error.

So what does MacIntyre mean when he says capitalism teaches that success in life means acquiring more and more possessions? Clearly, even in capitalist societies, almost no one actually says such things, and most people sincerely believe the opposite. MacIntyre thus seems to mean that, regardless of what people say or even believe, capitalism presupposes such a view. In fact, however, capitalism implies nothing about the end of human life. Capitalism is a system of legal rules, most of them concerning private property, the enforceability of contracts, and minimal governmental intervention into economic transactions, and it is manifestly compatible with a great many views about what the final end for man may be.
Capitalism does, indeed, facilitate the accumulation of wealth, and so someone believing man’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions would favor a capitalist system. That does not mean, however, that capitalism presupposes such a view or even encourages it. For example, suppose (as I believe is correct) that human beings, as rational creatures, are individually responsible for ascertaining the true final end of human life and for ordering their actions to this end. In this case a capitalist system may seem appealing because it guarantees human beings freedom to order their lives as they judge best. The philosophical justification for capitalism is not pleonexia [the Greek idea of the drive for more and more], but freedom.
It is true that someone who pursues wealth in a capitalist system is more likely to be richly rewarded and that we do indeed have a culture that praises greed and acquisition. This can causes greed to grow as people get exactly what they want--and they can often use this is indulge vice rather than virtue. But these problems stem not from the system as the system but the sin indwelling the heart of the players in the system. However, those who think we can control greed by using economic formulations other than capitalism offer what is another form of legalism: controlling the heart through external means. Capitalism will thrive where there are truly just laws but just laws cannot eliminate greed. Even the most heavily or over-regulated forms of interventionist policies will in the end only end up channeling greed.

Ironically, even the greediest practitioner of capitalism can bring about by his actions the unintended consequence of raising the poor from poverty. He can provide goods, services and jobs which can serve to cause human flourishing all the while his goal is to get rich. God will judge such greed but in this present evil age we should not be naive about the positive benefits of capitalism for human flourishing and extending human life.

God's Hospitality

I found this interesting quote when I was preparing for last week's sermon.

"God's provision for Israel in the OT takes on some of the qualities of human hospitality. God hosted the people of Israel in the wilderness, providing water, food and protection (Ex 15:24-25,27; 17:1-7; 23:20-23). He screened them prior to their entry into Canaan (Num 14:21-24; Deut 1:34-35; Heb 3:18-19; 4:6). He invited them into a Promised Land prepared for them--a place full of food, a place which God says, "The land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants" (Lev. 25:23; see also Deut 26:9). The application is even broader in Psalm 104, where the psalmist sees the cosmos as God's garden in which all living creatures receive provision. God's hospitality is actually festive, as he makes available "wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart" (Ps 104:15 NRSV). In a similar vein, in Proverbs 9 Wisdom, a personified attribute of God, builds a house and extends an invitation to the good life, pictured as a lavish banquet (Prov 9:1-6). In contrast, Folly, an unworthy and wily hostess, can only offer stolen water and "food eaten in secret" (Prov 9:14-18)." Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, "Hospitality" p.404.

A couple of thoughts:

1. I would say that God's hospitality and compassion and care becomes the paradigm for human hospitality. God offers the archtype in his redemption and care for his people. We, as Christians, should practice the ectype. This is why Israel was to care for the sojourner in the land.

2. God's hospitality as it extends to all creatures and especially all human beings is a function of what theologians call "common grace." That God is given all people things they do not deserve because he has a general care and love for them as his creation. God gives good gifts to the non-elect and the reprobate.

3. Somehow, God's hospitality should been subsumed under his Lordship and establishment of man as viceregents in his image. Just a a vassal king serving as viceregent was ultimately dependent upon the suzerain to exercise his function, so also human beings are dependent upon God to establish them as vice regents. "In him we live and move and have our being." So God in his hospitality places Israel in the promised land, but he also establishes them as dignified viceregents who will exercise his kingship. While Israel and God's people are always dependent upon God's grace, God's grace does restore the image of God (ultimately in 'new creation') but it also raises the person up to a position of viceregency. Certainly they do not deserve it, but God's pattern is to raise up the humble and lowly. This hospitality instills dignity in the person although the person is always under God.

4. Christian hospitality, lowly man to lowly man, is not then mere a handout where the person becomes a dependent and a 'ward of the state' rather Christian hospitality should affirm the dignity of the individual. It's goal should be to display the dignity of the person and even restore some of that dignity to them. We should be cautious and wary about means of "aid" that meet physical needs but in a manner that places the person below human dignity and essential enslaves them to their benefactor in a long term dependent relationship. This is not to say we should not give long term help to needy people; we should always lavish mercy until it is not longer merciful to help (Tim Keller's book Ministries of Mercy discusses this). This is to say that aid should be life affirming and raise a person in dignity whereas too often long term aid crushes the human spirit convincing them they have no value or ability other than being utterly dependent upon their benefactor like a junkie is dependent upon his dealer. We should give aid but we should not allow it to produce in us a 'savior complex' where we strive to keep the person below our level of dignity.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Religious Pluralism & Covenant Theology

In all the wrangling over hell, Rob Bell, universalism and pluralism, it's important that we don't lose site of the issues. One issue is that God is a God who relates to his people by way of covenant. All of God's interactions with his people are by way of covenants: from Adam right on down through Christ.

With covenant you can either be in and out of covenant. So, angels are not under the federal headship of Adam, but all human beings are. Originally only the line of Abraham was under the Abrahamic covenant all though you could join as a proselyte and in the New Testament, Gentiles are grafted in as Christ has fulfilled the covenant. But Gentiles are only grafted in as the profess faith in Christ.

At stake in the issues of pluralism and universalism is not merely a question of who's in and who's out. This is not theologians standing around playing 'einie-meanie-minie-moe'--rather what is at stake is the covenant character of God and this covenant character is the fundamental way by which he exercises his Lordship.

The promised hope of the Bible is: "I will be their God and they will be my people." But this only happens through the covenant union with which he enters into with his people via Christ. Which is why one cannot merely call on God by names other than Christ and God's own covenant names. At stake is not merely a label: as if I call water as root beer, you call it aqua but we both have the same referent. One has to know God by way of covenant and thus one has to have the right person as the object our religious devotion, faith and trust.

In this respect, religious inclusivism is not a nice option that gets us all to heaven:

While political toleration is a benefit for democratic culture, YHWH ranks religious pluralism enemy number one in his stipulations for his covenant people, as enshrined in the Decalogue. The sole lordship of YHWH, as we have seen, is the presupposition of biblical faith, and it is carried forward into fuller revelation of YHWH’s identity as applied to Jesus Christ…God is jealous for his own name and for the people who call on his name and are called by his name. God will not give his glory to another. (Michael Horton, Lord and Servant, 63. In our ellipsis, we have omitted Horton’s quotations of John 14:6; Philippians 2:9-10 and Acts 4:12.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Heresy Matters

Ray Ortland had two tweets on heresy that I thought were worth reposting, partly because I want to remember them.
"'Heresy' is a valid category because some ideas are so misguided they endanger the soul"

It is true that some Christians find 'heresy' in every error. Not all doctrinal errors are equally severe. But behind the charge of heresy should ultimately be the pastoral concern. True heresy has eternal consequences.


"Heresy matters not because it is the "wrong" answer but because it reveals a wrong relationship with God."

I think this last one is so important. So many people today assume that if we are concerned about heresy we have turned God into an academic exercise. That God is a set of propositions. They say that this undercuts the relational nature of God. Some even say things like we shouldn't fight over our doctrines but point people to God.

The problem is that this never acknowledges that when it comes to truly heretical issues people divided over an issue are actually two (or more) different gods.

Heresy is not about 'answering the test questions right'-- the issue of heresy vs. true doctrine is about a right relationship with the right God.

Of course, the tweets said this more succinctly.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How Much Righteousness?

Recently on the Christian radio station has an advertising promo to try to illustrate the perfection of holiness that is needed to come before God and dwell with him eternally.

The skit goes roughly like this:
Guy 1: "ok so when I go in there for judgment I need how many points to get into heaven?"
Guy 2: "1,000"

Guy 1: "Should be no problem. I was a good husband, how many points do you think I'll get for that?"
Guy 2: "Oh two."

Guy 1: "Two? Well how much for being a doctor? Now I saved lives."
Guy 2: "Mmmm. Three points.

Guy 1: "That's it? What about that time I ran into that burning house to save a kitten?"
Guy 2: "That was good."

Guy 1: "And?"
Guy 2: "Two points."

Guy 1: "But I could have died!"
Guy 2: "Two points."

Guy 1: "I banked a lot on that stupid cat."
Guy 2: "Sorry"

Guy 1: "So to get into heaven I need..."
Guy 2: "One thousand points."

Guy 1: "And I have?!...."
Guy 2: "Seven..... It's time for you to go in now."

Guy 1: "No wait a minute. I'm a pretty good fellow, if all I get is seven points--how does anyone get into heaven?"
Guy 2: "They don't take the test."

Guy 1: "What?! Now why not?"
Guy 2: "Because they know they don't meet God's standards."

Guy 1: "Then how do they get into heaven."
Guy 2: "They've asked Jesus to take the test for them. They get in on his score not theirs."

Voiceover: "Are you putting your faith in what you can do and accomplish or are you putting your faith in God?"

The good: It makes it clear that we must put our faith and trust in God to get into heaven. It makes it clear that what we need is not just the forgiveness of sins but the positive righteousness of Christ on our behalf. The: "he takes the test for us." In his humanity, Christ obeyed the Lord on our behalf. He is raised up in resurrection in full righteousness. Theologians then talk about that righteousness imputed to the believer. We receive his "test score" if you will.

The bad: The problem I have with this skit is that it takes too high a view of man. Seven points is giving me far more credit of righteousness than I deserve. Now it is clear that I don't have enough righteousness--and that is good. Certainly this is a short and cutesy skit. But if I think that I have even seven points of righteousness--even if I think that is not enough--I am still thinking too much of what I have before God.

Consider Scripture:
Isaiah 64:4 From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. 5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
The words for polluted garment describe more literally "menstrual rags." That means that the best "righteousness" that we have to offer our Lord is not a mere seven points that just keeps coming up short but at least can tick a point or two. No, the best that we have to offer is the equivalent of blood soiled rags from a women's period. No one would consider a used tampon as any sort of gift or credit--in the same way we have zero righteousness to offer God. The best we have is not just not good enough it is horrible messy and despicable.

Paul says something similar.
Phil. 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
In the verses prior to this Paul talks about all the things that he had as a Jew in good standing. These were the things that counted. These were his "seven points." But now that he looks at Christ and sees the surpassing value of Christ, he sees the true "value" of what he had: it is rubbish. The word describes disgusting trash heap, it is describes a pile of dung and feces. This is the best that he had to offer God: a pile of poop.

The Biblical portrait is that to not say 'well man, I feel short because I only made 7 out of 1,000.' I understand the point being made with this: we all fall short. That is true. But saying we have seven points gives far too much credit to man. When we understand that they we understand the depths of our sin.

We shouldn't exalt Christ because we have seven points but he takes the test. We should exult Christ because our best "points" are filthy, wretched and disgusting and he clothes us in his righteousness. Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Free-Will and God's Judgment

It is interesting that in all the controversy over free-will and those who say "God can't violate free-will" while they deny that the will is bound to sin never mention passages like Exodus 15:9ff. Did the Egyptians bound in their sin desire to kill the Israelites? Was that not their free-will in rebellion to God? Did God step in and intervene them from getting their way? If he didn't intervene the whole plan of redemption is derailed. 

Likewise if God's reign does not intrude into human hearts--light shine in the darkness; the plan of redemption is derailed. It really isn't a plan, its a crap shoot. Is that the kind of King and Warrior (Exodus 15:3) we want? At the heart of the issue is does God reign? Is God sovereign? (Exodus 15:18, et al). Do we have a God who is greater than us and can condescend and intervene according to His will-- or has He wound creation up like a watch and let it run so that He can protect free-will? If free-will is going to be consistently free then we'd better start holding a deist view of God, otherwise at some point men don't get their 'free-will'. 

I guess what I am getting at is that if God can intervene against man's bound-to-sin-will and bring judgment (as any Arminian would I hope acknowledge), why can He not intervene against man's bound-to-sin-will and bring redemption? 

What are we really safeguarding to trump redemption with 'free-will' except an idol? In some schemes of redemption there is more zeal to protect the freedom of man than to protect the freedom of God. The question arises: who is the ultimate being?

Will 'judgment' be the next thing to go for those who are logically consistent? In some circles it is indeed the thing that has been thrown out. I recognize that the view of many is that there are all these people out their just 'dying' to come to God and desiring that with all their heart and so the Arminian feels the need to protect these 'desires'. Of course, that is not the Biblical picture. The Biblical picture is that the will is so bound to sin that its consistent and habitual desire is to rebel against God.

When we think of God and man we are not supposed to think of them as equals on any level, this includes how we think of God's will/freedom and man's will/freedom. This is why the Biblical portrait holds that God is sovereign over all things and man is responsible for his actions. His actions are not coerced (as in fatalism) but neither are his actions independent of any plan, purpose or will of God (as in libertarian views of freedom). 

I guess that sad irony is that if we really understand God's History-of-redemption (salvation-history), the inbreaking of redemption in the cross and what is accomplished there is just as much eschatological as the judgment of sin (worked out in the famous "already-not yet"). It is unfortunate that some would give God freedom in the latter and not in the former. So God’s reigns in some things and not in others. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Bible, Sex and CNN

Last week CNN posted a controversial essay: “The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality,” by Jennifer Wright Knust." Kudos for posting a conservative response by Robert Gagnon.

Robert Gagnon is a NT scholar and an expert on what the Bible says about homosexuality. It's cliche but he wrote the book on what the Biblical texts actually say about homosexuality. On his website, he has resources, debates and essay responses.

His CNN blog post hits at a number of responses.

1. The Biblical vision is not androgyny. That's actually the pagan religion and gnostic vision.
Knust's lead argument is that sexual differentiation in Genesis, Jesus and Paul is nothing more than an "afterthought" because "God's original intention for humanity was androgyny."
It’s true that Genesis presents the first human (Hebrew adam, from adamah, ground: “earthling”) as originally sexually undifferentiated. But what Knust misses is that once something is “taken from” the human to form a woman, the human, now differentiated as a man, finds his sexual other half in that missing element, a woman.
That’s why Genesis speaks of the woman as a “counterpart” or “complement,” using a Hebrew expression neged, which means both “corresponding to” and “opposite.” She is similar as regards humanity but different in terms of gender. If sexual relations are to be had, they are to be had with a sexual counterpart or complement.

2. Sex is the not the ultimate end of man. In a culture obsessed with sex and sexual perversion this is a great reminder. One type of obsession with sex is the type that leads us into all types of sin (sex outside of marriage, pornography, etc.). A second less mentioned type of obsession with sex is more subtle: it is entirely possible to be obsessed with the right use of sex within your marriage. Look: the Bible has a healthy vision of sexual intimacy but sexual intimacy with your wife is not your ultimate end: enjoying God is. Gagnon writes:
According to Jesus, “when (people) rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels” (Mark 12:25). Sexual relations and differentiation had only penultimate significance. The unmediated access to God that resurrection bodies bring would make sex look dull by comparison.
At the same time Jesus regarded the male-female paradigm as essential if sexual relations were to be had in this present age. (emphasis mine)

3. He refutes the notion that because Jesus said nothing directly about homosexuality, he would have endorsed it. This is (a) a logical fallacy and (b) more importantly misses how and why Jesus says what he says.
Jesus’ point was that God’s limiting of persons in a sexual union to two is evident in his creation of two (and only two) primary sexes: male and female, man and woman. The union of male and female completes the sexual spectrum, rendering a third partner both unnecessary and undesirable.
The sectarian Jewish group known as the Essenes similarly rejected polygamy on the grounds that God made us “male and female,” two sexual complements designed for a union consisting only of two.
Knust insinuates that Jesus wouldn’t have opposed homosexual relationships. Yet Jesus’ interpretation of Genesis demonstrates that he regarded a male-female prerequisite for marriage as the foundation on which other sexual standards could be predicated, including monogamy. Obviously the foundation is more important than anything predicated on it. 
Jesus developed a principle of interpretation that Knust ignores: God’s “from the beginning” creation of “male and female” trumps some sexual behaviors permitted in the Old Testament. So there’s nothing unorthodox about recognizing change in Scripture’s sexual ethics. But note the direction of the change: toward less sexual license and greater conformity to the logic of the male-female requirement in Genesis.
4. Gagnon rightly rejects to comparison between overturning slavery and overturning prohibitions of homosexuality. This is a common rhetorical tactic: you compare the Bible on slavery to the Bible on homosexuality and then say well if you want to follow it's position on the latter than you must endorse slavery.
How much does the Bible’s treatment of slavery resemble its treatment of homosexual practice? Very little.
Scripture shows no vested interest in preserving the institution of slavery but it does show a strong vested interest from Genesis to Revelation in preserving a male-female prerequisite. Unlike its treatment of the institution of slavery, Scripture treats a male-female prerequisite for sex as a pre-Fall structure.
The Bible accommodates to social systems where sometimes the only alternative to starvation is enslavement. But it clearly shows a critical edge by specifying mandatory release dates and the right of kinship buyback; requiring that Israelites not be treated as slaves; and reminding Israelites that God had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt.

Finally, you have to just love truthful snark like this:
As a scholar who has written books and articles on the Bible and homosexual practice, I can say that the reality is the opposite of her claim. It’s shocking that in her editorial and even her book, "Unprotected Texts," Knust ignores a mountain of evidence against her positions.
It raises a serious question: does the Left read significant works that disagree with pro-gay interpretations of Scripture and choose to simply ignore them?

The whole essay is worth reading, even if it is a brief introduction to the issues. Gagnon while giving an introduction walks through the issues and refutes Knust's essay.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Parenting Thought

One of the questions my wife and I often get... ok, my wife often gets is: "how do you do it with four kids?" The basic question hints at a whole range of sub-questions like: How do you have time for all the work? How do you clean up after them?  How do you do _________ for that many? etc. The basic answer is we don't, we expect our kids to take responsibility.

Principle: God wants to you train your kids to take responsibility for themselves.

Obviously, you can go to far with this, that is one of the reasons that Paul instructs Father's not to exasperate their children (Eph. 6:4). But there is nothing wrong with expecting children to take responsibility. If they get out toys, they should clean them up. If they make their room dirty, they should clean it up. If they expect to eat at the table, they can help set it and clean it up.

This has to be done in an age appropriate fashion. Presently our kids are 1, 3, almost 5, and 7. The two older girls have expectations on them. Our oldest daughters knows it is her job to do homework when she comes home--and we don't check up on her every night because that is her responsibility. Our two older ones know they must sweep the floor after dinner and on Saturday they have some chores to help clean up.

Our three year old has begun to help clean her plate after the meal. I will hold it and she will scrape it. She will put the dishes by the dishwasher. She can help bring the laundry downstairs. She has a few things to do that we've have given her the responsibility to do. 

My wife and I take care of our kids, but quite frankly we aren't going to take the time to do everything for them. With the exception of the baby--they can dress themselves before breakfast (ok the 3 year needs a little assistance from time to time).  Our oldest daughter knows that after breakfast she needs to pack her lunch (if she is not buying in the cafeteria) and get herself ready for school: this includes her book bag and her homework folder. Occasionally we remind her or point out the time so she knows to hustle a little but that is far different than doing all the work for her. She knows her responsibility and to my knowledge she's never missed the bus.

If you never give your kids any responsibilities, you get teenagers and young adults who can't or don't want to handle responsibility. Our job as parents is to prepare kids to be future adults and parents of their own. We are training them to be released into the world. We want them to be mature and competent for life--both on the spiritual and the ordinary. If kids are used to having their parents do everything for them, they don't learn to be self-sufficient particularly as they move into adulthood. These types of adults may still live at home for too long and expect their mom to do the laundry.

None of this is to say that we do not nurture our kids, we do. It is important for them to know that we love them. But it is also important that they know we are a family. In a family everybody has their own part to do, it is not the mom and dad show with the kids along for the ride.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Framing the Hell Debate

A lot of people think that it is mean and nasty of the Christian to "draw lines" over who is and is not in hell. This debate can quickly take us away from the real issues. So over at the Huffington Post we read:
In other words, regardless of what Christians think about Hell, and more specifically, the question of who's in and who's out, Christians should not only hope and pray that no one meets this fate, but believe that God has the final say in these matters -- even if this means confounding our best theological assumptions.

(1) Those with an orthodox view of hell do indeed wish and pray that it would be as empty as possible. See Romans 9:1-5. See also what D.A. Carson writes at the end of his essay on the wrath of God in Engaging the Doctrine of God. He says quite bluntly that it should move us to tears.

(2) Christians who take the orthodox position on hell do indeed believe "that God has the final say in these matters." However, we believe that God has clearly spoken and revealed what that position is. If God has a final say then we can't plug our fingers in our ears if he actually speaks on the issue.

The rhetorical point that the author used to persuade of his view (1) emotional and (2) appeal to a higher authority. (In a Christian debate over doctrine one should appeal to a higher authority). What that author did not acknowledge is that this is not really what is at issue in this fight because the best representatives of the traditional view of hell already believe these things.

I haven't done any exegetical legwork in this post, but the point is: if Jesus clearly tells us that some people are in and some people of out while it is certainly right to say we don't know the full content of who is in what category we cannot claim the categories do not exist. If Jesus tells us the categories are final states, then we cannot pretend he might not really mean final. And if Jesus tells us to reject trusting in Him leaves one's fate secure, then we cannot try to create wiggle room where Jesus might not mean what he says.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...