Thursday, August 30, 2007

Gospel-Driven Hospitality

Contemporary Westerners have a difficult time understanding the deep significance of the table fellowship described in the Bible. Indeed, Western people have a hard time understanding much of anything from ancient Palestine connected with food. We have food in abundance; those in the ancient East did not. Our food is very easy to come by. It was quite the opposite in the ancient East. Our meals are often rushed. In Jesus’ day people reclined around the table and took their time. Because of this, the way we think about sharing meals with people will be quite different from that described in the Bible.

Hospitality is a significant theme in God’s Word. Romans 12:13 says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” In Hebrews 13:2 we are exhorted, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for some have entertained angels unawares.” The apostle Peter tells us to “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (I Peter 4:9). In I Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:8 Paul mentions hospitality as one of the requirements of an overseer.

The New Testament word for hospitality literally means, “love of strangers.” Considering that definition, the Gospel implications of hospitality begin to surface immediately. God loved us while we were His enemies. He sought us out when we were not willing to seek Him. God drew us to Himself when we were alienated from Him. He did all this at tremendous personal cost.

The New Testament helps us see our homes as places where we nurture others from our own resources of safety and supply. As Tim Keller observes, “hospitality is essentially treating others as family.” In the same article Keller writes that hospitality, “incorporates newcomers into household, common, daily activities such as eating a meal, sharing a cup of coffee, or painting a room. It treats peers as brothers, sisters and cousins. It treats older people as fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles. It treats children as sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews.”
For the Christian, hospitality has deep theological moorings. When we have someone in our home we should consider how our welcome and treatment of them can give them a taste of the goodness of God’s coming kingdom. The kingdom of God will be a place of radical generosity, security, acceptance, and abundant supply. It will be unhurried and entirely satisfying. The way Jesus behaved at meals and social gatherings reflected these qualities of the kingdom. Jesus so regularly fellowshipped over meals, even with ‘sinners’ that he was accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Luke 7:34). If the Gospel is to be advanced effectively and Christian community nurtured then Jesus’ habit of lingering regularly with others in homes must be recaptured by Christians today. “Indeed, recovering hospitality as a Christian tradition more generally is widely needed in our fast-paced, self-centered lifestyle” (Blomberg, 171).

In his helpful book Contagious Holiness Craig Blomberg carefully examines the texts of Scripture that depict Jesus sharing meals with “sinners.” He writes:
“Perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that, when Jesus asked His disciples to ‘duplicate’ his miracle of feeding the multitudes, He envisioned a later day when they would do so by non-miraculous means. The majority of our world’s inhabitants have no difficulty looking forward to the prospects of a future age when material as well as spiritual sustenance will know no bounds. Even we who remain satiated most of the time can usually reflect on special meals that whetted our appetites for the biblical vision of an eschatological banquet in which all God’s people will enjoy one another and all of God’s good material provisions for ever, with none of the selfishness, injustice, or alienation that so often mar even the best of our celebrations in this age” (p. 170).

Gospel-driven hospitality requires an “up-closeness” with different kinds of people. It bridges gaps rather than reinforcing them. And this is probably one of the most significant hurdles relating to hospitality for Christians today. We are simply not comfortable with people who are different from us. Blomberg quotes Christine Pohl who observes that “churches have generally done better with offering food programs and providing clothing closets than with welcoming into worship people significantly different from their congregations. Because we are unaware of the significance of our friendship and fellowship, our best resources often remain inaccessible to strangers” (p. 172).

It seems clear that for hospitality in our homes to happen more regularly there will need to be changes in the way that most of us live. It is not easy to exercise hospitality. It usually requires some planning. It requires resources of time, money, and emotions. Also, it is usually the wife of the household that is burdened with the responsibility of making all the arrangements. While there are some households where this arrangement works well, there are probably many others where it is unrealistic. Hospitality needs to be a team effort. Husbands must help their wives shoulder the burden and make sure that they are involved in the scheduling of home gatherings. To ignore this will introduce conflict into the home and destroy the atmosphere of comfort and joy that Gospel-driven hospitality requires. For the unmarried adult, their singleness is an advantage at this point. Their freedom to plan and be flexible is a blessing to their ministry of hospitality.

Busyness is an enemy of hospitality and Americans are busy. We fill our schedules with an abundance of activities. We work 50, 60, and even 70 hours each week. Our kids are involved in sports and various other activities. What is more, those who are actively involved in church will often find themselves committed to a demanding schedule. It seems that quiet evenings at home are rare. When this is the case, the last thing we want to do is have guests. Who has time to actually forge a relationship with a lost neighbor?

Michael Prior has written that there is a “desperate need for Christians to excise innumerable church meetings, in order to free their diaries for proper meeting with unbelievers.” Jesus ministered to people of various backgrounds and social standing. He shunned neither rich nor poor, insider nor outsider. This model of ministry “challenges us to cross the culture-gap between the Christian sub-culture of cozy meetings and holy talk and the pagan culture of our local community. The task of identification with and incarnation into our contemporary paganism, of all kinds, is one of the biggest tasks confronting the church” (Blomberg, 173).

The hope for Metro East is that we will increasingly view our corporate facilities and individual homes as arenas for ministry to those who find themselves on the outside. How can we think creatively about the ways we use our church building? How welcome would someone feel who does not look like a typical Wichita suburbanite? Are there ways we can expand our facilities to include a storefront in a location that is more accessible for those not used to attending church? Could such a location be used to serve coffee and host teaching times and discussions that would appeal to those who do not know Jesus?

How can our homes become places of refreshment and friendship for our brothers and sisters in Christ? What about those within our congregation who are lonely? When was the last time we forged a friendship with someone in our church? Has our circle of friendships expanded in the last 12 months? Let us also consider how our homes can be tools for the advancing of the Gospel. Are we approaching our neighbors with a fresh commitment to be their friend? We must not treat them as a project. For Jesus’ sake, they need a friend whose life is driven by the Gospel.

Alexander Strauch’s excellent book “The Hospitality Commands” is a great resource. It is a study of what the Bible teaches about hospitality. It will give you a fresh vision of how to use your home to advance the gospel. I commend it to your reading.

What do you think of tattoos and body-piercing?

Here are some interesting thoughts on tattoos and body piercing from John Piper (Desiring God).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Another reason I like John MacArthur

That Which Is Born of the Spirit Is Spirit

John Piper on the Holy Spirit's role in regeneration (TheResurgence). Salvation belongs to the Lord!

Casual Worship

Great words from the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs from his classic "Gospel Worship."

"The reason men worship God in a casual way is because they do not see God in His Glory. If a man has ever had Isaiah's vision of the Holiness of God, he would be changed in an instant. But until men have seen God as He truly is they will be forever guilty of the very same rebuke that God gave to the wicked in Psalms 50:21 'You thought I was just like you'."

What Price "Relevance"?

Justin Taylor has posted this stunning observation from Sally Morgenthaler(Megachurches).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Miss Teen USA 2007 - South Carolina answers a question

Bless her heart. I couldn't resist.

Pastors and Their Money

As the two previous posts demonstrate, the love of money is a sin that pastors cannot afford. Don’t misunderstand. Sinless perfection regarding lust for money is no more attainable in this life than is sinless perfection regarding lust for pleasure, lust for recognition, or lust for vengeance. Pastors battle these sins just as those do whom they have been charged to shepherd. But this is not an excuse for failure or complacency. Pastors must join the battle against these sins.

A money loving pastor exists in an impossible tension because his heart is divided. Jesus offers us a sobering warning: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:19-21, 24). Paul warned the younger Timothy that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Tim 6:10).

The sinister “genius” of the prosperity preachers is that they have devised a way not merely to excuse their lust for wealth but to celebrate it. Their multiple mansions, private jets, and lavish expense accounts, they declare, are the very signs of God’s blessing upon them. They have “gotten” it. They have learned to live in “victory!” They have sown their seed and it worked. Now, if the rest of us would just buckle down and sow our seed in their ministries then we may be fortunate enough to reach similar heights of blessing.

Two of the worst offenders are Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar who pastors, sadly, one of the largest churches in the U.S. Copeland once famously said, “If we are children of the King shouldn’t we be living like princes?” The aptly named Dollar recently swaggered across the front of his church telling his listeners that they ought to “biggee size everthang!” The “you can have it all” message of these men and others like T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, and Joyce Meyer erase the boundaries between loving God and loving money.

Love of money leads pastors into business ventures and various other distractions that steal away their time from study, disciple-making, and prayer. What is more he will surely rob time from his family as well. So, not only will his primary responsibilities as a shepherd suffer but so till will his wife and children. The tragic story of Randy and Paula White demonstrates this all too well (see previous post).

None of what I have written is meant to suggest that there is something inherently noble about poverty. Some of the most money-obsessed people I have known have been those who have very little money. I believe the key for pastors is the prayer found in Proverbs 30:8b-9: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

The people of God have a responsibility to take care of those who serve the Gospel in a full-time capacity. Scripture is clear on this. Nevertheless, pastors should not press their rights too strongly. The same Paul who affirmed the rights of Gospel ministers to be compensated refused to exercise that right in the Corinthian church. So careful was he to not be accused of ministering for the sake of money that he refused financial support from the Corinthians and instead made tents to support himself. He writes, “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision…” (I Cor. 9:13-14).

Pastors should be models of godly contentment. “[F]or I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). No pastor can love God and money simultaneously. And the voracious appetite that some of America’s most prominent ministers display for wealth and luxury betrays their idolatrous and divided hearts.

Of course, my own heart is afflicted with the same divisions and idolatries. That is why I have to starve the lust to have more and more. If I feed it, it will become a beast. This requires that pastors must know their hearts well. They must know every dark corner that lies within. This is not a call to asceticism. The church must be careful to make sure the men who serve as shepherds are adequately provided for. At the same time, pastors must to learn to say “I have enough. I am content.”

Monday, August 27, 2007

Blurring the lines between business and ministry

Two well known "pastors" in the prosperity movement announced their coming divorce ( This is a tragic report. It is a dangerous thing to follow men (or women). How can so many people follow preachers who have so clearly abandoned Christ for success and money? I am speachless.

Ted Haggard Appeals for Funds

Christianity Today has posted this interesting article on their live blog site (Christianity Today). It seems that Ted Haggard and his wife need money to fund their living expenses while they both pursue degrees in psychology and counseling. This is another prime example why pastors need godly accountability. The modern "pastor as CEO" model has not served the church well.

The Truth of the Cross

In a time when the Christian book industry is flooded by self-help and do-it-yourself Christianity it is always exciting to see good books come off the presses. R.C. Sproul, no newcomer to the Christian publishing business, has released another fine book. I am excited about it because it is a book that focuses on the doctrine of the cross. There are many new good books dealing with the cross and the doctrine of justification. However, most of these are written for a more academic audience. Happily, Dr. Sproul’s book is written with a popular reader in mind. It is only 167 pages long but it packs a lot of soul thrilling theology. The book, aptly titled The Truth About the Cross, helps prove the point that all good theology is doxological. That is, good theology moves the heart to rejoice and worship.

I am realistic enough to know that a book about the cross of Christ will not sell as many copies as books about how to discover your purpose in life or how to be “a better you” but those who do get a copy and read it will be richly rewarded. The Truth About the Cross will drive you deeper into the central doctrine of Christianity: the cross of Christ. It will drive you deeper into God’s Word. It will make you more grateful. It’s worth the read.

“The prevailing doctrine of justification today is not justification by faith alone. It’s not even justification by good works or by a combination of faith and works. The prevailing notion of justification in Western culture today is justification by death. It’s assumed that all one has to do to be received into the everlasting arms of God is to die.
“In some instances, the prevailing indifference to the cross mutates into outright hostility. I once was asked to deliver a lecture explaining the relationship between the old and new covenants. In the course of delivering this lecture, I referred to Christ’s death as a substitutionary, vicarious sacrifice for the sins of others. To my surprise, someone in the back of the room yelled out, ‘That’s primitive and obscene.’ I was taken aback for a moment, so I asked, ‘What did you say?’ He said it again with great hostility: ‘That’s primitive and obscene.’ At that point, I had recovered from my surprise, and I told the man I actually like his choice of adjectives. It is primitive for a blood sacrifice to be made to satisfy the justice of a transcendent and holy God, but sin is a primitive thing that is basic to our human existence, so God chose to communicate His love, mercy, and redemption to us through this primitive work. And the cross is an obscenity, because all of the corporate sin of God’s people was laid on Christ. The cross was the ugliest, most obscene thing in the history of the world.”
- From The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Good Coffee

Those of you who know me know of my loyalty to St. Arbucks. I love their strong coffee. I also make a habit of doing much of my sermon preparation at Starbucks. One of the great advantages of this practice is that I am able to meet people who are not a part of the Metro East fellowship. On blessed occasions I even get to meet people who don’t know Jesus. I remember sitting next to a table of teenagers who did not seem to know anything substantive about Jesus. However, their conversation was largely theological. They saw that I was studying my Bible and invited me into the conversation. It was clear that they did not understand the Gospel which gave me an opportunity to speak the truth about a salvation that was revealed in Jesus Christ and was had entirely by God’s grace. Another time I was reading The Atonement by the great Christian scholar Leon Morris. A lady at a nearby table asked me what “atonement” meant.

I have recently discovered a newer coffee joint in Wichita. It’s called Dunn Brothers Coffee. It’s a great place to hang out, study, and meet people who more than likely do not attend the local Southern Baptist Church. It’s large and provides cushy club chairs and tables. And, like Starbucks, their coffee is not for wimps. You’ll have to shave your tongue in the morning.

Anyway, Dunn Bros. is located in Old Town at the corner of 2nd Street and Rock Island road next to the new Marriot. Bring your Bible and keep your eyes open. Maybe I will bump into you there. Even better, maybe you’ll cross paths with someone who needs to the know the hope you have.

By the way, I am not receiving any royalties from either Starbucks or Dunn Bros. but perhaps that could be investigated.

Gospel-Driven Cultural Engagement

Every society has a “culture” or set of shared beliefs, values, and practices which provides a common approach to understanding and dealing with the larger questions of life. “Where do we come from? What do our lives mean? What is most important in life?” The way those questions are answered will give shape to a people’s culture. Tim Keller observes that culture shapes:
· the way we treat the material world,
· the way we relate the individuals to the group and family,
· the way groups and classes relate to one another,
· the way we handle sex, money, and power,
· the way we make decisions and set priorities, and the way we regard death, time, art, government, and physical space.

It seems that there are an endless parade of people and groups seeking to influence culture. Artists, politicians, environmentalists, preachers, and scientists are all trying to conform the culture to their values. When we consider that these cultural influencers are often times seeking contradictory ends, the confusion and chaos that results should not be surprising.

The church has struggled for generations to understand how they should be influencing culture. At various times among various groups of Christians the approaches have included such things as achieving political power, gaining material wealth, monasticism, conservatism, liberalism, involvement in the arts, serving the poor, mass and personal evangelism, slick marketing, mega-churches, home churches, etc. The reason why some of these means have been at cross purposes is because Christians have not been able to agree about how, exactly, Christ intends to impact culture.

It ought to be acknowledged that there has never been a truly “Christian culture.” This-worldly Christian utopianism is just as misguided as communist utopianism. However, Christians ought to be keenly interested in seeing the culture reflect more of God’s love, justice, holiness, grace, and life-giving power. The Bible’s plot line gives us the meta-narrative we need in understanding and seeking Christ-centered cultural transformation:
1) Creation – God created a perfect and harmonious world.
2) Ruin – Through man’s rebellion against God the world has fallen into a state of brokenness. As a result, nothing is as it should be. Injustice, immorality, and death are all results of this brokenness.
3) Redemption – God has purposed to redeem His world and His people through the sacrificial death and victorious resurrection of His beloved Son.
4) New Creation – Eventually God will restore His world and His people to the state of perfection for which they were created.

God’s redemptive purposes are larger than the salvation of individual sinners. The end toward which God is moving is New Creation. In His perfect time God will redeem all that has been lost due to the fall. God will create a new world (heaven) where His glory is man’s highest treasure. It will be a world where peace, justice, and mercy will have the final say over strife, injustice, and hate. The means by which this victory was sealed was the death and resurrection of Jesus. Since God sacrificed his beloved Son for this purpose then Christians who live in the days before the consummation of the new creation should seek to impact the culture with the justice, love, and mercy of God.

How does this happen? How should this happen in our own community?

1. Christians must not isolate themselves. Christians have to go where the people are. This may mean moving to more densely populated areas of the city. It may mean moving to less “churched” areas of the city. Christ impacts culture through Christians. We are Christ’s ambassadors but how will we represent Him if we are not engaged in a meaningful way with those who do not know Him?

Let us ask ourselves four questions:
a) Where do I live? Christians probably need to live in close proximity with other people. This may mean less security and less privacy but it will almost certainly mean more impact. We must see our homes as arenas for gospel ministry.
b) Where do I work? See your vocation as a means for advancing the gospel.
c) Where do I contribute? Are you working for the good of the community? Are you engaged in service, the arts, local ministries, etc?
d) Where do I recreate and relax? Begin to see your health club, golf club, coffee shop, swimming pool, front yard, etc as a place to engage people with the gospel.

2. Christians must be a counter-culture rather than a sub-culture. Christians have become skilled at constructing their own ghettos. We build our own book stores, make our own potpourri pots, produce our own “art,” make our own movies, and separate into our own groups. This is a sub-culture. It is a way of registering our complaints about all the things we oppose. It is a good way to escape from culture but will fail to impact the culture. And while it is important to stand against what is wrong, Christians must be known for more than simply what we oppose.

To be a counter-culture means that we offer to the world an entirely new way to live. Jesus told his disciples that they were a city set upon a hill (Matt. 5:14-17) whose lives would show forth the goodness and glory of God. Tim Keller writes, “We Christians are called to be an alternate city within every earthly city, an alternate human culture within every human culture, to show how sex, money, and power can be used in non-destructive ways; to show how classes and races who cannot get along outside of Christ can get along in Him; and to show how it is possible to produce art that brings hope rather than despair or titillation.”

3. Christians must be committed to the good of their community. When the church is healthiest she is actively working for the good of the surrounding community. Christians do not demand power and influence. They follow the way of their Master who shunned political power in favor of servant-hood.

The historian Rodney Stark has helped to explain why Christianity spread so widely in the urban areas during its first few centuries:
“To cities filled with homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as real hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with widows and orphans, Christianity offered a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity…I am not saying the misery of the ancient world caused the advent of Christianity…people had been enduring for centuries without the aid of Christian theology or social structures. I am arguing that once Christianity did appear, its superior capacity for meeting human problems soon became evident and played a major role in its ultimate triumph…for what Christianity offered was not simply a new urban movement, but a new culture.”

4. Christians must see their work as a sacred vocation. One of the great achievements of the Protestant Reformers and the 17th century Puritans was the recovery of the idea that all work is sacred. In other words, all work, whether preaching or washing dishes is sacred if done for the glory of God. The false dichotomy separating “secular” from “sacred” work, which still persists, effectively keeps many Christians from seeing their vocation as an arena in which they can engage the culture with the Gospel.

Christians must approach their work with a commitment to integrity and honesty. They must be willing to work hard as a means to bless their employer/employees and to honor their Creator. Christians need to know how to think "Christianly” about the world around them. This will lead to a better grasp of God’s common grace displayed in the daily and “ordinary” events of life including their work.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

AP and MTV on the Happiness of Young People

Tom Ascol over at Founders has some great thoughts on a recent study by the AP and MTV on young people and happiness (Young People).

More good responses to Dawkins

This is a helpful series of posts dealing specifically with Richard Dawkins spurious attacks on theism (::: :::). Atheism is growing more popular because of the acceptance of poor arguments, illogic, and flat out distortions of the truth. Christians had better be equiped to respond.

Southern Baptists and Theology

The Southern Baptist Convention was founded by men who were true theologians. However, with the dawning of the 20th century and the passing of those early founders the theological precision of the SBC began to dull. Southern Baptists became known for bloviating and politicking as much as or more than theology.

However, I am encouraged by a resurgence in rich theological discourse in the life of the SBC. There is still plenty of politicking going on. Some of our pastors and elected leadership seem to know no other way. But something fresh seems to be emerging. At the 2006 annual meeting of the SBC Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Seminary and Paige Patterson of Southwestern Baptist Seminary held a public discussion on Calvinism. It was respectful and affirming. Many of us were thrilled by the simple fact that a theological discussion was actually occurring at the SBC.

This week I began reading A Theology for the Church edited by Daniel Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Seminary. Why I believe this to be significant is that it is a systematic theology written by Southern Baptist theologians. Many of us feared that Southern Baptist theology died with Carl F.H. Henry. But now, men like Drs. Akin, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, David Dockery, Mark Dever, Timothy George, and Thomas Schreiner are making significant contributions to the various fields of theology and biblical studies.

Don’t misunderstand there have always been good theologians and biblical scholars in Southern Baptist life. The problem is that theology was pushed to the periphery of Southern Baptist discourse. Politicians and king makers from both the right and the left seemed to be the most prominent and influential men in the denomination. Now, however, that may be changing. There is a generation of Southern Baptist pastors that are more influenced by theologians and expositors than power-brokers.

More evidence of this trend is seen in a conference being held in November at the Ridgecrest Conference Center (Southern Baptists and Calvinism) and organized by Southeastern Seminary and Founders Ministry. Let us pray that robust but loving theological discourse becomes the norm among Southern Baptists.

Before you convert to Roman Catholicism...

Monergism has a link to a list of questions (Top Ten List) that Dr. James White would pose to anyone considering converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Medium is the Message (almost)

I have linked to a great article (Scriptorium Daily) at Scriptrorium that uses the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes as evidence that the link between the medium and the message is much stronger than some think. I have believed for some time that the old addage from the church growth movement that you can change the method as much as you like without altering the message is simply not true.

The Gospel Driven Church

The church must never move beyond the Gospel. It seems odd that a church could “lose” the Gospel but it is more common than we dare imagine. So much of the preaching and worship of the church is focused ultimately on what we can do rather than on what God has already done in Christ. Much of Christian spirituality is driven by achieving subjective mystical experiences rather than resting in the objective reality of the accomplished work of Christ. When this happens we begin to embrace, albeit unknowingly, a religious program of self-salvation. D.A. Carson writes:
"Many have commented on the fact that the church in the western world is going through a time of remarkable fragmentation. This fragmentation extends to our understanding of the gospel. For some Christians, “the gospel” is a narrow set of teachings about Jesus and his death and resurrection which, rightly believed, tip people into the kingdom. After that, real discipleship and personal transformation begin, but none of that is integrally related to “the gospel.” This is a far cry from the dominant New Testament emphasis that understands “the gospel” to be the embracing category that holds much of the Bible together, and takes Christians from lostness and alienation from God all the way through conversion and discipleship to the consummation, to resurrection bodies, and to the new heaven and the new earth."

To be Gospel-driven means that the Gospel will be our central message, the narrative of our lives, our motive for ministry, and our power in evangelism and missions. In this sense, we never move past the Gospel. Part of the genius of the Gospel is that it operates on two levels of reality. It is the simple message of salvation: Jesus died for sinners and rose victorious over the grave. It is also the deepest of deep truths. Who can fathom the mysteries of grace that caused the Son of God to become a curse in the place of sinners?

Therefore, the Gospel is a reality that drives the people of God. The Gospel will drive our worship. Our singing, preaching, and practice of the ordinances (Lord’s Supper & Baptism) are all shaped primarily by the cross. The themes of serving, sacrifice, and humility that are inherent to the Gospel will drive our fellowship. The call to repent and believe in Jesus Christ will drive us to the world to declare the good news of salvation. The promise of God’s coming new creation where love, holiness, and justice reign will drive us to engage the culture in such a way as to give people a foretaste of these kingdom realities.

Tim Keller of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church points our three ways that the Gospel gives us freedom to move into our culture:
1. The Gospel makes us humble
The Gospel requires radial humility. It requires that we give up on all notions that we can save ourselves or even help ourselves spiritually. It requires total dependence upon God. People defined by the Gospel are used to receiving. In this sense, the Gospel guards us from arrogance and gives us the freedom to say, “I have much to learn.”

There is much we can learn from culture. More specifically, there is much we can learn from lost people. We are not their Savior, Christ is. We are their servants. If we listen well we can learn the best ways to serve them and embody the saving service of Jesus.

2. The Gospel makes us confident.
To be humble is not the equivalent of lacking confidence. The Gospel allows us to say, “I have much to give.” We need not fear that we are like salesmen seeking to move a product that few people really want or need. The Gospel is news. It is the announcement of what Jesus Christ did to bring sinners to God. It is the best news in the universe. It is relevant to every age, every race, and every culture. Every man, woman, and child needs to hear the Gospel.

3. The Gospel makes us courageous.
It is not uncommon to fear the prospect of moving closer to the surrounding culture for the purpose of making the Gospel known. But there is a courage that the Gospel imparts that enables us to say, “I have nothing to fear.” Paul’s attitude is instructive. His perspective on his life is that he lived to declare the Gospel and would therefore be given as many days for that purpose as God determines. But if he departed this life then, as far as he was concerned: “that is better by far.” The Gospel does not make us irresponsible but it does not allow the idolizing of safety and security.

A Gospel-driven church will offer a radical alternative to any culture the world produces:
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding sexuality. The world has perverted and twisted sexuality. On one hand, libertines exploit and idolize sex. On the other hand certain moralists have given the idea that there is something inherently wrong with sex. The church understands that sexuality is a good gift from God to be experienced within the blessed relationship between husband and wife. For the Christian, sex becomes an expression of love where giving is magnified over taking; mutual joy over selfish demands. Because so many people have been harmed by the fallen condition of our world the church must be prepared to surround them with a compassion and community shaped by the Gospel.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding marriage and family. Christians understand that marriage is a reflection of God’s covenant love and loyalty toward His people. They are committed to teaching God’s ways to their children. The church also affirms the goodness of singleness. Some are called to be single for a time and others for life. Whether God calls His children to marriage or singleness He does so purposefully for the sake of displaying His goodness and sufficiency.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding money and possessions. Christians are committed to generosity with all of their resources. They strive to ensure that there are “no needy among them” (Acts 4:34). The Gospel frees us from both asceticism and materialism. Christians who have been blessed with much or comparatively little will seek to use their money, their home, and their time for the benefit of others. They can give freely because they have come to know that Christ is sufficient and does not need to be augmented by material goods.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding power and status. The world craves power and status. Power is seen as having an advantage over others. Status is enjoyed by being an object of envy. The Gospel turns these worldly values inside out. Power is displayed through weakness and status is achieved by being the servant of all.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative regarding social connections. The world is divided along racial, economic, political, and generational lines. The church fails when it reinforces those divisions. A Gospel-driven church consistently seeks to bridge man-made barriers between people. The Gospel heals racial strife and creates a community where godly older men and women mentor those who are younger. People will neither be despised nor envied because of their economic situation. When conflicts arise, as they surely will, a Gospel-Driven church actively pursues reconciliation as defined in Scripture.
· The Gospel-driven church offers a radical alternative to social action. In the world, social action becomes corrupted by political agendas from both the left and the right. The church is not a social services organization. However, it clear from Scripture that the church will be judged in part by how they treated the poor among them. There are churches today that do an excellent job of caring for poor people but are no longer faithful to God’s Word. There are other churches that are meticulously careful regarding doctrine but do little to meet the needs of the poor and lonely. The task for the Gospel-driven church is actively engage the needs of the poor without being co-opted by liberal doctrine and political agendas. On the other hand, the Gospel-driven church will watch their doctrine closely without being political bed-fellows with those on the right. The Gospel-driven church is wholly owned by Jesus Christ and cares only about His agenda and priorities.

The Gospel changes us. The Gospel-driven church says, “Because we have been forgiven, we will be forgiving. Because we have been shown mercy, we too will show mercy. Because we have been taken out of captivity, we will lead captives to freedom.” In this way, the Gospel becomes both our central message and the controlling motif for our lives. John Ensor writes in his book The Great Work of the Gospel, “Recipients of the gospel become servants of the gospel.” He continues:
“Servanthood is a way of life among the forgiven…We began as guilty sinners, living empty lives, and through the sanctifying power of His Spirit and belief in the truth, God washes, heals, molds, and spurs us on to a place where we wake up every day of our lives with the highest of all purposes for getting out of bed. We serve the living God...
“The great work takes the hostile and turns them into partners in the ministry of the gospel…It is not the Spirit of grace that for so many has made comfort and retirement the end of Christian faith; it is the Spirit of the age gone unchallenged. When grace is at work and on the move, cross-bearing in hard places, fed by the secret spring of joy in a better world yet to be realized, is found in its wake.”

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dumbing Orthodoxy Down

Because I am often asked about the Emergent Movement I thought I would link to this book review of Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy (A Generous Orthodoxy). McLaren, the most influential of those within the Emergent Movement is often times coy about what he really believes. In this particular book he shows more of his cards than he has in the past. The results are sad.

Godlessness goes kitsch

More on the athiestic evangelism of Richard Dawkins from the fellas at Triablogue (Godlessness goes kitsch).

A Church Just Like Me

In an article in the July/August issue of “Touchstone” Magazine, James Harrison describes a recent visit to a Mosque in Detroit, Michigan. Harrison, a Baptist pastor from New York, was struck by the variety of people in the mosque that day. He called it a “true rainbow coalition.” Many, he writes, were “Middle Eastern” in appearance. But there were many others who were not. He writes, “Americans of European ancestry, or who were European-born, sharing something akin to my Irish complexion, knelt beside African Americans, North Africans, Persians, and Arabs of various stripes.”

One of the worshipers caught pastor Harrison’s eyes particularly. “He appeared to be in his early twenties and as American as apple pie.” So, after the service, Harrison approached the young, pale-faced Muslim convert. He asked him what it was about Islam that would cause him to convert. Interestingly, the reason was not about theology.
“I grew up in church. My parents took us to Sunday school every week. They even went to church themselves, on and off. And what I remember about church is that no matter where I went, everyone was just like me. As I grew older, I noticed, too, that people who were not like me all had their own churches, as well.
“Islam is different,” he said. “I’m sure you noticed that. It’s the first thing I noticed when I began to investigate Islam. And that’s what prompted my conversion. If Islam can accomplish that, it’s something that I can commit myself to.”

That is a profound observation. The churches I have been a part of have, in most cases, been just like me. And the reason is simple. I am most comfortable around people who are like me. This is true for most of us. And that fact was not lost on the architects of the church growth movement in the later half of the 20th century. One of the first principles discovered in the “science” of church growth is that churches grow best when structured along lines of homogeneity. In fact, “homogeneous groups” became official language for the church growth movement.

People are attracted to people like themselves. In contrast, people are not comfortable around people who are not like them. It became an easy equation. If you desire your church to grow, then target a specific group. Interestingly, it seems that most pastors want to target rich, white, suburbanites. I don’t know of very many pastors who feel called to plant churches in poor “black” neighborhoods. I know of many churches that moved from the city to the suburbs. But I know of no churches that moved from the suburbs to the city. North Dallas and Suburban Atlanta are far more attractive church planting fields than are Compton or Detroit.

Harrison writes, “When we allow our comfort to cage us in when we should be reaching out, we refuse to be and to do that which Christ has commanded, and our comfort has become a less obvious kind of sin.” He points out that early in American history many denominations came to be defined along lines of national origin: Swedish Baptists, Dutch Reformed, etc. However, these nationalistic designations did not reflect well the barrier breaking character of the Gospel. “Eventually, many came to see this desire for comfort as a hindrance to the mission of the church.”

I do not believe that the push for homogeneity among the church growth experts is racist or bigoted. It is, I believe, simple pragmatism. The leaders in the church growth movement were not prophets. They were marketers. They understood what people wanted. Therefore, the conclusion was that if the church would simply supply consumers (George Barna’s language) with what they wanted then the church would grow. One of the things people want from a church is comfort. And one of the things that makes most people uncomfortable is being around people who are different from them. The conclusion was simple. Create churches for people just like me. This could be done, we have been promised, without compromising the message. But is this true? I believe not.

Harrison continues:
“The idea seems to be that if we can be more like the culture, or like a specific subset of the culture, the people will be comfortable with us. If they are comfortable with us, we’ll be able to convince them that not only are we just like them, but Jesus is just like them, too. And if they think Jesus is just like them, maybe they’ll want to follow him. Why they would want to follow someone who is just like them, however, remains a mystery…
“But what makes the Gospel unique is the way in which Jesus is not like us. I don’t need someone who is just like me. I’m sinful. I need someone holy. I’m human. I need someone divine. I cannot stand under the wrath of God. I need someone who has stood there in my place. I cannot raise myself from death to life. I need someone who can raise me up because he himself has been raised…
“[T]his emphasis on similarity is not a good thing for the church. It runs counter to the biblical ideal of what the church is to be, and also counter to the biblical example of what the church is to accomplish before a watching world.
“In the New Testament, whenever a problem of cultural or racial division arose within the church, the solution to the problem was not separation into compatible social or racial groups. The solution was to foster ever-increasing union around the gospel and its implications…
“The church is to be an earthly representative, imperfect though it is, of the heavenly glory, in which men from every tongue and tribe and nation are gathered together, worshipping the One who sits on the throne, and the Lamb.”

Statistical Shell Game

More on the Southern Baptist Convention and numbers from the editorial pages of Christianity Today(Evangelical Conviction).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

To change it would make it worse

This article written for Baptist Press by a professor at Boyce College at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is worth the read ((BP)).

Bravo Peter Jensen!

Al Mohler has posted a blog (Heresy in the Cathedral) about John Shelby Spong's visit to Australia. If you don't know, Spong is an Anglican from the U.S. whose views are so heretical he would be hard to caracature. Anyway, Peter Jensen, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney has refused Spong entry into any of Syndey's Anglican pulpits. In a day where there seems to be little or no price to pay for heresy, Rev. Jensen's move is laudable.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A False Gospel

John Piper on the Prosperity "Gospel".

Allow Me to Reintroduce the Christ.

I found this video posted at "Recover the Gospel" (Allow Me to Reintroduce the Christ.). It may be a bit unconventional for white suburban Christians but it is powerful. There is more good theology and doxology packed into this presentation than many church goers heard last Sunday in their church.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Derek Webb podcast interview

Tony Kummer over at "Said at Southern" has posted a good interview with Derek Webb (Derek Webb podcast interview).

Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism

This is a good sign (Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism).

Southern Baptists and Calvinism (pt. 2)

Section V. God’s Purpose of Grace
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which he regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by his Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end.

- From the Baptist Faith and Message

I have often been asked, “Do you believe in election?” My response is always the same, “Yes, and so do you if you believe the Bible and the Baptist Faith and Message.” It is sad to me that so many Southern Baptists do not even know that the Bible uses the words “election” and “predestined.” They would be just as surprised to know that the BFM speaks explicitly to the biblical doctrine of election.

Notice that the BFM affirms that election is “the gracious purpose of God” which is contrary to what many Southern Baptists have always been taught: that election is according to the free will of man. In other words, most Southern Baptists have been taught that God “elects” those people whom He foresees will choose Him. In this scheme, election is contingent, that is, it is based entirely on what someone else will do. God acts in salvation retroactively and strictly in response to the sovereign actions of man. “Elected because I selected” is one unfortunate slogan that has come from this curious doctrine. Nowhere in Scripture is this idea affirmed.

Contrary to this “popular” view is the careful wording of the BFM: “Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which he regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners…It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness…” To call election “the gracious purpose of God” is to necessarily affirm that election is a purposeful act and not merely a contingency. Election (eklektos) is a strong word and is far from passive. It is not an “after the fact” declaration. It is active and purposeful, eternal and un-changable just as the Bible and the BFM affirm.

God is the author, initiator, sustainer, and finisher of salvation. This is why election “excludes boasting and promotes humility.” Any scheme of salvation that makes man the decisive factor in his salvation (“Elected because I selected”) would promote boasting and pride. If God’s people are responsible for their election by virtue of their good sense and spiritual insight then they deserve a great deal of the credit for their salvation.

Why did God choose Abram? Why did God choose Israel? Was it on the basis of anything they had done or would do in the future? Absolutely not! “The Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you…” (Deut. 7:6ff). Why did God choose Jacob over Esau? Paul tells us precisely why in Romans 9: “…though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls – [Rebekah] was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’…So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy” (vv.11-13, 16).

A small sampling of New Testament texts effectively demonstrate that election is according to the gracious purpose of God just as the BFM states: John 6:35-40, 44; 17:6, 9, 24; Acts 14:48; Romans 8:28-9:26; Galatians 1:15; Ephesians 1:1-14; I Peter 1:3, 2:9; II Peter 1:10; I Thess 1:4-5, 5:9; II Thess 2:13; II Timothy 1:8-9. Please take the time to read these passages of Scripture. They are glorious!

How gracious is our God! Unfortunately, you will find that the above cited texts are contrary to what many Southern Baptists have been taught. If you are a lifelong Southern Baptist, as I am, it is quite possible that you have never heard a sermon on any of the texts listed. If you have, then it is likely the texts were mentioned only briefly or were preached in such a way as to assert that they do not mean what they so clearly say. I do not recall ever hearing a sermon on the doctrine of election even though it is a key biblical doctrine from Genesis to Revelation.

I was once told by a retired and very kind Southern Baptist pastor that I should avoid preaching on the above mentioned texts because, according to him, they would just “confuse people.” He went on to counsel me, “Just give them the milk. Just give them the milk.” I was shocked and saddened. But that moment was very instructive for me. It helped explain why generations of Southern Baptists, while nice and sincere, are overwhelmingly shallow in their understanding of the Scriptures.

Continuing on the issue of Calvinism and Southern Baptists, Morris Chapman writes:
“The Bible teaches both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. The Baptist Faith and Message agrees that both the work of grace and the responsibility of man are necessary elements in the salvation experience. This phenomenon is called an antimony (an apparent contradiction between two equally valid principles). For instance, how can salvation be totally an act of God, independent of human means, and a human response to a divine initiative? The Baptist Faith and Message identifies and embraces the antimony of these two seemingly competing truths.”

Chapman is partly right but he makes an unfortunate error. He is right in saying that God’s total sovereignty and man’s responsibility seem to be contradictory to the mind of man. We wonder how man can be responsible for what he does if God truly controls all that he has made (something Scripture explicitly affirms). We wonder how our responses of repentance and faith can be meaningful if God sovereignly elects his people unto salvation. These are deep and valid questions that have been explored by theologians for millennia.

Where Chapman goes wrong is in his statement, “For instance, how can salvation be totally an act of God, independent of human means…” I suppose he is trying to illustrate the Reformed position on salvation – that it is independent of human means. But this is far from the Reformed position. I know of no advocate of sovereign election from Augustine to Luther to Calvin to Bunyan to Edwards to Whitfield to those in our own day who have ever advanced the idea that salvation is “independent of human means.” The Calvinists who originally drafted the BFM wrote that election is “consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end.” This is the Reformed position! The Bible teaches, and Calvinists fully affirm that God uses means to accomplish his sovereign plans. Among the means that God uses to accomplish his “purpose in election” is the repentance and faith of all those who are saved.

I know what it is to have my beliefs mischaracterized. The hurt is especially deep when treasured friends are responsible for the distortions. I have never broken fellowship with anyone because of a disagreement over whether election is based upon God’s gracious purpose or man’s decision. While I am not afraid to disagree on and debate this issue, it has not kept me from worshiping and serving with my brothers and sisters who take a view different from mine. But I have had precious friends break fellowship with me on these grounds.

Let us allow the wise council of Charles Simeon the great 18th & 19th century preacher and teacher be our standard. Himself a Calvinist, Simeon urged Christians to not divide over the doctrine of election. In a sermon on Romans 9 Simeon said:
“Many there are who cannot see these truths [the doctrines of God’s sovereignty], who yet are in a state truly pleasing to God; yea many, at whose feet the best of us may be glad to be found in heaven. It is a great evil, when these doctrines are made a ground of separation one from another, and when the advocates of different systems anathematize each other…In reference to truths which are involved in so much obscurity as those which relate to the sovereignty of God, mutual kindness and concession are far better than vehement argumentation and uncharitable discussion.”

On these five things Calvinists and evangelical Arminians agree:
1. No one desires to be saved apart from a change of heart wrought by God.
2. There is no salvation apart from repentance from sin and faith in Christ.
3. All those who repent and believe in Christ will be saved.
4. No one who truly desires salvation in Jesus Christ will be turned away from God because they are not among “the elect.”
5. It is the responsibility of the church to declare the Gospel throughout the world because it is the power of God unto salvation for ALL who believe.

It seems to me that those are strong grounds for unity.

Southern Baptists and Calvinism (pt. 1)

In the August issue of SBC Life Morris Chapman comments on the discussion concerning the Baptist Faith and Message at the 2007 Convention in San Antonio. He writes:

“Our forefathers had the foresight to determine the core beliefs about which they could agree in order that Southern Baptist churches could come together to send missionaries around the world and build seminaries to educate individuals who were to pastor, preach, teach, and minister in our churches.”

The Baptist Faith and Message is not an exhaustive statement of faith nor is it intended to be. Sometimes I lament this fact. I find myself wondering if our churches would be better served by a more comprehensive statement of faith. However, since there are certain important theological issues on which the BFM is either silent or speaks only in generalities it is important for Southern Baptists to extend charity to one another when there is disagreement over those issues. Sadly, this is often not the case. Both laymen and clergy within our denomination have drawn battle lines over doctrines not exhaustively explained or even addressed in the BFM.

Chapman continues:
“When we insist upon engaging each other in heated debates over doctrinal interpretations beyond the Baptist Faith and Message, our Convention shall sooner or later divide into even more factions and distract us from fulfilling the Great Commission…
“Discussing whether the Baptist Faith and Message is a ‘minimal’ statement or an ‘exhaustive’ statement misses its greatest attribute – that attribute is that it is a ‘consensus’ statement that defines Southern Baptist doctrine as believed by the greater whole of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. Upon these doctrinal statements, we agree to agree. In doctrinal statements not included in the Baptist Faith and Message, we must learn to agree to disagree and debate the differences as Spirit-filled Christians who love Christ and one another.”

Chapman spends most of his article discussing three issues that, in recent years, have been at the center of often heated debates among Southern Baptists: 1) Calvinism, 2) Private Prayer Language, and 3) Water Baptism. When I was in college in the late 80’s the issue of private prayer languages (tongues) was a particularly hot topic. These days however it is Calvinism. Historically, Calvinism was the doctrinal position of most Baptists since the 17th century. In keeping with this trend, the Southern Baptist Convention was founded by men who were Calvinists. B.H. Carroll, the founder of Southwestern Seminary and J.P. Boyce, the founder of Southern Seminary were both Calvinists. The first Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, W.B. Johnson, R.B.C. Howell, and Richard Fuller were Calvinists. The great early Southern Baptist pastor/theologians like Basil Manly, Sr. & Jr., John Broadus, John Dagg, P.H. Mell, E.Y. Mullins, and L.R. Scarborough were Calvinists. What is more, the very first confession of faith adopted by Southern Baptists, The Abstract of Principles, is Calvinistic or Reformed in doctrine. It was the founding document of both Southern and Southeastern Baptist Theological seminaries. To this day, the teachers at those institutions must sign a copy of The Abstract of Principles signifying their agreement with its doctrine.

For whatever reason, as the 20th century progressed, Calvinist or Reformed doctrine was pushed aside by the majority of Southern Baptists in favor of a more Arminian understanding of salvation (I will write more about Arminianism in a future post). Along with this move came the encroachment of liberalism into the SBC. Efforts to adopt a more comprehensive statement of faith were strongly opposed by new Southern Baptist leadership. As the 20th century progressed, doctrine was de-emphasized in Southern Baptist life. The defining mark of Southern Baptist churches was no longer a common doctrinal confession but loyalty to the Cooperative Program. This is true, to a large degree, to this day.

However, Southern Baptists are witnessing a resurgence in the doctrines of their founders. Not surprisingly, the heat around the issue of Calvinism has increased dramatically. Fearing that Reformed doctrine is a threat, some of the SBC’s most well known mega-church pastors and denominational officials have said some very divisive things about Calvinists from their pulpits. In many cases, their statements about the doctrines on which they cast so much fury display an appalling ignorance. I do not know any Calvinists that believe the caricatures that are often called “Calvinism” by its opponents. These unfortunately common misrepresentations are either the result of ignorance or malice. Either way it is bad. Christians ought to carefully avoid misrepresenting the views of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Ironically, the statement on the doctrine of election in the Baptist Faith and Message would be fully affirmed by any Calvinist. Indeed, it is in this statement where the theological convictions of the SBC founders can be clearly seen. Of the doctrine of election the BFM states:

Section V. God’s Purpose of Grace
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which he regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by his Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end.

Monday, August 13, 2007

As the Family goes...

Al Mohler has posted a thought provoking article (Dr. Mohler's Blog) on the connection between the health of the family and that of the church.

Future Sermons

As many of you know I have almost completed my latest installment of sermons in the Luke series: chapters seven and eight. Beginning September 9th I am excited to launch a series of messages based upon the fresh purpose statement that was composed by the Strategic Ministry Planning Team. The series will follow the pattern of “7 Pillars” or core essentials of Metro East. The series will be titled “The Gospel-Centered Church.”

In November, before returning to the series on Genesis (begun December ’06), my plan is to preach some messages from the Psalms. Our last series in the Psalms was called “A Walk with Christ Through the Psalms.” This next group of messages will be an examination of prayer in the Psalms and will be called “Protest and Praise.” In preparation I have been reading John Goldingay’s two volume commentary on the Psalms. It is part of the new Baker Commentary on the Old Testament series. It is outstanding. Here is a sample from a section that Goldingay writes about “the Psalms as theology”:

“Theologically, the Psalms are the densest material in the entire Old Testament. There is a greater concentration of statements about God here than anywhere else. That reflects the fact that theology is the key both to worship and to pastoral care, and that worship and pastoral care generate theological insight.

“Doxology and theology are closely related. Doxology requires theology; glorifying God involves making many a statement about God. Conversely, theology finds one of its natural forms in doxology…The natural way to make statements that do justice to God’s nature is to make them in the form of praise. Dispassionate analytical statements about God deconstruct.

“Statements about God are also of key importance to pastoral care. First, the doxological statements to which I have just referred, the statements that are most at home in praise psalms, need to be statements that shape Israel’s worldview. Among other things, they may then issue in and support our living the right kind of life. Second, these are then the statements that Israel needs to keep in mind when trouble comes, when the temptation is to lose sight of or deliberately abandon the convictions about God that one affirmed when the going was not tough.”

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Don't miss this!

One of the issues I deal with most often in my role as a pastor is the reality of suffering. I am routinely confronted with questions that I cannot answer easily. Often times the answers to human suffering that are made plain in Scripture seem unsatisfactory to many people. But in moments when we are confronted with evil or suffering we do not need sentimentalism. We need the anchor of God's steady Word. We should not be surprised that sometimes the answers we find in Scripture are not entirely satisfying. After all, we are sinful people with fallen minds. God's ways are above our ways and his wisdom is beyond our full comprehension.

Desiring God has posted some challenging and comforting meditations concering suffering in light of the Minneapolis bridge collapse (Video from the Collapsed Bridge :: Desiring God).

Be blessed.

Spurgeon on Conversion

“One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment – I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the author of my faith, and so the doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, ‘I ascribe my change wholly to God.’”

Charles Spurgeon

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Great reading for children

Ray Van Neste offers some very helpful information on excellent Christian literature for children at this sight (The Children's Hour). If you are a parent I think you will find it very helpful.

Of God and 747's

Richard Dawkins, perhaps the most well known atheist in the western world right now is getting a lot of press. It is very possible that at least one person you know has read or been influenced by his latest book "The God Delusion". Christian Thinker has some good thoughts on Dawkins' famous 747 argument against the existence of God (::: :::). Check it out!

Famous Baptist Politicians

Not too long ago former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton made it known that they were interested in launching a new Baptist denomination that would serve as an alternative to the Southern Baptist Convention. Both men, members of Southern Baptist churches have been famously out of step with the conservative majority within the world’s largest Protestant denomination. Many Southern Baptists would be happy to show the former presidents the door. Their positions on homosexuality, abortion, and Mr. Carter’s appalling affection for dictators and the PLO having made them something along the lines of the crazy uncle who lives in the basement. They are, at best, a curiosity among Southern Baptists.

In this month’s issue of National Review two more famous Baptist politicians are referred to.

“Dick Gephardt started out pro-life but switched his position in time to run for president. Addressing an abortion-rights banquet, he blamed his past on the misfortune of having been raised in a ‘working class family of Baptist faith.’ John Edwards, today’s Democratic tribune of the working class, is using his religious background the same way: to protect his left flank. He says that same-sex marriage is the hardest issue he has to deal with. He is against it, he told George Stephanopoulos: ‘Because I’m 53 years old. I grew up in a small town in the rural South. I was raised in the Southern Baptist church and so I have a belief system that arises from that. It’s part of who I am. I can’t make it disappear…Do I believe they should have the right to marry? I’m just not there yet, me, I’m not there.’ Edwards has transcended parts of his past: He has said that he does not believe homosexuality is immoral. But nobody votes on that question, while same-sex marriage remains unpopular. We’re guessing that the operative word in his answer is ‘yet.’”

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

When Tragedy Strikes

John Piper, who pastors in Minneapolis, has had some thought provoking meditations on the recent bridge collapse. This link (Desiring God) will take you to a response he offered to Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People". Kushner was recently interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio.

Athiests Unite!

Al Mohler has written about Richard Dawkins new campaign to "out" well known atheists (Outing Atheists -- Richard Dawkins Launches New Campaign). His hope is that bringing more atheists into the open will help to popularize their movement. What a fun bunch of folks they must be!

Dr. Dawkins is a brilliant scientist but his latest book "The God Delusion" demonstrates the truth that a good scientist does not a philosopher make. You can read a wonderful refutation of Dawkins' book by Alister McGrath. It is called "The Dawkins Delusion." McGrath is a former atheist turned Anglican theologian and chruch historian. He holds degrees in molecular biology and theology. "The Dawkins Delusion" deserves a place in the library of any Christian who wants to be well armed with the truth in a day of rising atheism.

Biblical Foundations » Summer Reading

Andreas Kostenberger has posted some information on a few books he has been reading this summer (Summer Reading). Of special interest is his reference to the book "Misquoting Truth" by Timothy Paul Jones. For those of you who have seen, heard about, or read the best seller "Misquoting Jesus" by Bart Ehrman, this is a very helpful resource. Jones does an effective job of showing the deep flaws in Eherman's work while being very gracious in the process.

Let's be ready to give an answer to those who dismiss Christ because of fautly logic or wrong information.

Monday, August 6, 2007

I Still Must Protest (3)

“My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, for going against my conscience is neither safe nor salutary. I can do no other, here I stand, God help me.” With those words, Martin Luther sealed his fate as a heretic condemned by no less than Pope Leo himself. If not for the protection of his prince, Frederick the Wise, and the immense popularity he enjoyed among the people, Luther would surely have been arrested, quickly tried, and burned to a crisp.

The doctrine of the supreme authority of the Scriptures came to be known as Sola Scripture or “Scripture Alone.” It is often referred to as “the formal principle” of the Reformation. It is a reminder that the Protestant Reformation was essentially a movement based upon the careful study of God’s Word.

The Roman Catholic Church has long held that the Bible is the product of the church. That is, the church gives birth, as it were, to the Scriptures. There is an implicit subordination implied in this formula. This is why, when discussing doctrine with a Roman Catholic it does no good to say something like, “But purgatory is found nowhere in the Bible,” or “But the Bible says none of those things about Mary,” or even, “But the Bible tells us that there is only one mediator between God and man.” The reason this line of argument is so fruitless with a Roman Catholic is because the Bible is not their ultimate source of authority because they believe the Bible is the product of the church and not the other way around.

In contrast, the Protestant Reformation rightly understood that the church is the creatura verbi: the creation of the word. God creates with the power of His word. This is seen in creation and the new creation. His word is powerful to bring substance out of nothing and life from death. His creative word brought worlds to be and His redemptive word brought to be a people for his own possession. The church is no more the creator of the Bible as is man the creator of his own salvation. This was a revolutionary assertion in the 16th century. If the church was a product of the Word then the Bible must hold sway over church councils, over popes, and over tradition. Such a formula would put at risk the power of the Roman magesterium, the teaching office of the church.

By the time Luther came along, Church tradition had come to include a number of different doctrines and practices handed down to the church over the centuries by Popes and councils. Thus, “Holy writ” and “Holy tradition” were both looked to as authoritative sources of revelation. In command of both was the church’s magisterium which claimed ultimate authority in the interpretation of Scripture and tradition.

The Roman Catholic Church has long made a caricature of Sola Scriptura saying that it would lead to chaos and an “every man for himself” approach to interpreting the Bible. Sadly, while this was never the doctrine of Sola Scriptura as articulated by the Reformers it has become the practice of many Protestant Christians. I have been told, “No one is going to tell me how to interpret the Bible.” This is a dangerous perspective. While holding that God’s Word is infallible, Sola Scriptura rejects the idea that the Bible can be read and properly interpreted without any accountability. It is the wise Christian who looks to those godly scholars who have labored long in the languages and doctrines of the Bible for help to rightly interpret God’s Word. But this is a hard thing to convince a contemporary church given more to the reading of Sports Illustrated and Good Housekeeping than sound biblical commentaries.

The fact is, tradition can and should play an important part in the life of God’s people. It matters what the long line of faithful witnesses that have gone before us have believed and practiced. They were certainly not infallible. However, it is destructive arrogance to ignore or otherwise reject the wise counsel of our predecessors in the faith. The crucial difference is that Protestants reject the idea that tradition can be considered authoritative in the way that Scripture is authoritative. Authority is perhaps the central issue of Sola Scriptura. Certainly, there are implications with inspiration, infallibility, and sufficiency. But authority is at the heart of Sola Scriptura.

Heiko Oberman, a scholar and author of my favorite biography on Martin Luther, offers some very helpful categories for understanding the differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics on the relation between Scripture and tradition:

Tradition I
Tradition I is referred to by Oberman as the “one-source” theory of revelation. This theory sees Scripture as the only source of infallible divine revelation and is to be interpreted in the watchful care of the church. In other words, while Scripture is affirmed as the only infallible source of revelation it must still be interpreted within the context of Christian community in order to guard against error. This is the view historically held by Protestants.

Tradition II
Tradition II is the “two-source” theory of revelation. Tradition II holds that Scripture and tradition are separate and equal in authority. It holds that the Bible and church tradition are both sources of divine revelation.

Tradition III
Tradition III holds that the magisterium of the church is the ultimate source of revelation for the church.

While certain aspects of Tradition II can be seen in some of the writings of the early church fathers it is not until the 12th century that a full fledged two source tradition is developed and accepted in the Roman Church. This development of Tradition II came about in order to support the many doctrines and practices that had appeared in the church in previous centuries. It was the Council of Trent that made the two-source view of revelation official Catholic doctrine. For the next three hundred years this woulud be the teaching of the Roman Church. But over the last century and a half a new tradition has emerged within Catholicism. Oberman writes:
“A Tradition III concept is in the process of being developed by those who tend to find in the teaching office of the Church the one and only source for revelation. Scripture and tradition are then not much more than historical monuments of the past.”

Doctrines such as the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary (1854), papal infallibility (1870), and the bodily ascension of Mary to heaven have all come as a result of the power of the magisterium. Keith Mathison writes, “Rome is gradually moving toward a one-source concept of revelation, but the one source of revelation is the Roman magesterium. In practice, what this means is that whatever Rome now teaches, is, by definition, the tradition of the church. This is, of course, the logical implication of the doctrine of papal infallibility.”

In a way, there is nothing new here. It was not unusual for Jesus to rebuke the religious leaders of Israel for preferring their own traditions to the clear revelation of Scripture: “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men (Matt 15:2).” “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (Mark 7:8-9). Terry Johnson rightly observes, “The ‘commandment’ of God must always sit in judgment on our traditions. Scripture must reign supreme over all ecclesiastical traditions.”

Sola Scriptura is under attack. It always has been. Rome seeks to supplant Scripture through the teaching office of the Church. But many so-called evangelicals have supplanted Scripture with the autonomous individual. “What does this verse mean to you?” The idea that Scripture as a single meaning and that man must bow his knee to what God means offends modern individualism. We cannot control the Roman Catholic Church. But we can and must seek reformation and renewal within the Protestant church.

Sola Scriptura!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Prosperity False Gospel Thrives in Africa

The prosperity "gospel" of Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, etc has decieved millions. This Christianity Today article (Gospel Riches Christianity Today A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction) addresses the rise of this demonic doctrine in Africa. Pray for our brothers and sisters in Africa that God will raise up for them preachers and teachers who rightly divide the Word of Truth and worship the Creator rather than the created.

John Piper on the Bridge Collapse

Putting My Daughter to Bed Two Hours After the Bridge Collapsed :: Desiring God

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?  --  C. H. Spurgeon

More good words from the good reverend Spurgeon (Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats? -- C. H. Spurgeon). It's amazing. There is nothing new under the sun.

Paying Homage To The Great god Entertainment

Jim at Old Truth has posted this passage from John MacArthur's book Ashamed of the Gospel (Paying Homage To The Great god Entertainment). The lines between entertainment and worship are becoming hopelessly blurred.

Advancing the Gospel

As I studied for last Sunday’s sermon on Luke 8:1-3 I was both convicted and challenged. I was convicted because of my own lack of impact when it comes to advancing the Gospel deeper into Wichita. Luke’s words are so simple. Jesus went to the cities and villages preaching the good news of the kingdom. The twelve followed Jesus in this vocation. As Luke continues his gospel narrative on into the book of Acts he traces the apostle’s work of bringing the Gospel of Jesus to bear upon the various communities to which they traveled. It is not a complicated model. Cultures, on the other hand, can be and often are complicated. But what Jesus has called us to do is not. We are to make the Gospel known. We are called to go where the people are.

Luke’s words challenge me to think intentionally about how Metro East can better introduce the Gospel into our surrounding culture. As a pastor I receive a lot of advice from “experts” who tell me if I will just jazz up the worship and tone down the preaching then we will reach “seekers.” This perspective flows from the faulty premise that theater lighting, expensive stage props, and slick videos will somehow be the key to reaching our culture: “Sing songs about human longing and preach to felt needs. Quit boring people with the Bible. That’s the key!” The problem is, the more our worship and preaching mirrors the culture the more we disguise the radical alternative that the Gospel represents. It becomes a kind of bait and switch: “See how cool we are? Being a Christian is fun and impressive! Come to our church, sit back and relax. Oh, by the way, Jesus demands and deserves total allegiance.”

The gospel is not advanced by removing the other-worldly nature of our worship and preaching so that lost people can comprehend every aspect. Indeed, when the church is fortunate enough to host lost persons in their services, they ought to observe the worship of a God who is awesome and holy and they ought to be confronted with preaching that clearly declares the Gospel and the radically counter-cultural claims of Christ. The Gospel does not move into the culture by “worshiptainment.” The Gospel is advanced into the culture when, through transcendent worship, Christian’s hearts and minds have been captivated by a grand vision of a great God and, through careful instruction in the Scriptures, have been equipped for ministry.

So I am asking myself a lot of questions these days. Are our current programs and schedule advancing that end or hindering it? Are our times of worship and instruction in God’s Word making us ready to effectively engage the culture with the Gospel? Is our fellowship charged with a level of encouragement and accountability that helps make each of us grateful ministers of Christ’s Gospel in the city where God has planted us? Will Metro East be a Christian ghetto offering a trivial sub-culture or a true church (a community of called out ones) calling people to God’s transformative counter-culture?

Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan knows a thing or two about the gospel and about how it advances into the culture. Redeemer Presbyterian has planted over 75 churches with a plan to start 200 in the next 20 years. Resources from Dr. Keller and Redeemer are available through this blog site. I would encourage you to check them out.

In one article entitled “Preaching in a Post-Modern City” Keller contrasts the Gospel and ‘Religion.’ I found his words very helpful as I considered the reality that one of the reasons we are not very effective at advancing the Gospel is because we don’t much believe it ourselves. Keller writes:

“The gospel is ‘I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey’ while every other religion operates on the principle of ‘I obey, therefore I am accepted.’ Martin Luther’s fundamental insight was that this latter principle, the principle of ‘religion’ is the deep default mode of the human heart. The heart continues to work in that way even after conversion to Christ. Though we recognize and embrace the principle of the gospel, our hearts will always be trying to return to the mode of self-salvation, which leads to spiritual deadness, pride and strife and ministry ineffectiveness.
“For example, ministers derive more of their joy and a sense of personal significance from the success of their ministries than from the fact they are loved by God in Christ. Why? Their hearts are still operating on the principle – ‘If I do and accomplish all these things – then I will be accepted.’ In other words, on one level, we believe the Gospel but on another we don’t believe.
“So why do we over-work in ministry and burn out? Yes, we are not practicing the Sabbath principle, but the deeper cause is unbelief in the Gospel! Why are we so devastated by criticism? The person whose self-worth is mainly in his or her ministry performance will be devastated by criticism of the ministry record because that record is our very self and identity. The fundamental problem is unbelief in the Gospel.
“At the root then, of all Christian failures to live right – i.e. not give their money generously, not tell the truth, not care for the poor, not handle worry anxiety – is the sin under all sins, the sin of unbelief, of not rejoicing deeply in God’s grace in Christ, not living out of our new identity in Christ. This means that every week in a different way the minister must apply the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith through Christ’s work. Thus every week the non-Christians get exposed to the Gospel, and in its most practical and varied forms not just in a repetitious ‘Four Spiritual Law’ way. That’s what pragmatic post-moderns need.”