Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Skipping The Cross

Most of the people who read this are aware of and have rejected what is commonly known as “the prosperity gospel.” This heresy of “name it, claim it” is advanced by such false teachers as Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, and Joyce Meyer. Basically, they teach an ancient heresy that claims we create reality by the words we speak. If you want blessing then you must speak your word of faith to claim the blessings that God wants to give you but cannot unless you release Him. If you don’t want cancer or the flu then you must speak in faith against those conditions and claim your health. If you desire financial prosperity then you must speak against the spirit of lack and claim your increase. The ancients called this sorcery. The Christian publishing industry calls it “Christian Living.”

While most of us have rejected this tragically popular heresy, many of us have nevertheless fallen for a more subtle version of the same thing. It is what Michael Horton has recently called “Christ-less Christianity.” It is a version of Christianity that could exist perfectly well without Christ’s atoning work on the cross. In this formula Christ is not the Savior from the coming wrath of God but the one who helps us have a healthy self-esteem. Jesus is not the sole Mediator between sinful man and holy God as much as He is the ultimate life coach, a divine Tony Robbins. It is what Martin Luther called the “theology of glory”: seeking to have now what God has promised only for heaven.

In contrast to the “theology of glory” is what Luther called the “theology of the cross”: the story of God’s merciful condescension to us by putting forth His dearly loved Son to be the propitiation for our sins. It is the message that the apostle Paul called “foolishness to Greeks” and “a stumbling block to Jews.” Michael Horton has written:
“Exemplifying the moralistic and therapeutic approach to religion, Osteen’s message is also a good example of the inability of Boomers to mourn in the face of God’s judgment or dance under the liberating news of God’s saving mercy. In other words, all gravity is lost – both the gravity of our problem and of God’s amazing grace. According to this message, we are not helpless sinners – the ungodly – who need a one-sided divine rescue. (Americans, but especially Boomers, don’t take bad news well.) Rather, we are good people who just need a little instruction and motivation.”

Without a deep understanding of, and abiding confidence in the work of Christ on the cross Christians grasp for, even demand other blessings from God because the stunning grace of redemption has been lost to them. Lip service is given to the fact that “Jesus died for my sins” but since my sins weren’t all that bad then the news is not all that great. Therefore a kind of Christianity that the Bible never describes is constructed; one that will make worldly minded people happy. In his book Your Best Life Now Joel Osteen writes, “You do your part, and God will do his part” (p. 57). “Sure we have our faults,” he writes, but “the good news is, God loves us anyway” (ibid, 66). “If you will simply obey his commands, He will change things in your favor” (ibid, 119). Sounds easy doesn’t it? Just obey God’s commands. What could be so hard about that?

Perhaps it is easy to dismiss such nonsense because it is written by Joel Osteen. But remember, Osteen pastors the largest church in North America and has written two enormous best-sellers. What is more, the ideas he advances are in no way unique to him. They can be found in countless other “Christian” books and church pulpits. Even conservative, so-called Bible-believing churches have embraced this brand of Christianity that practically skips the cross.

How many sermons are preached in evangelical churches that are able to stand without any mention of the cross? These pastors preach a version of faith that is preoccupied with personal success and “making life work.” The cross becomes white noise. It’s in the background somewhere. It’s assumed. Instead of being the center-piece of faith, life, and hope the cross is merely a means toward the really good news: you can have your best life now. God’s terrifying condemnation of sinners is ignored completely but then so too is the earth-shattering good news of justification through the cross. Of this reality, Horton writes, “Instead of either message, there is an upbeat moralism that is somewhere in the middle: Do your best, follow the instructions I give you, and God will make your life successful…Everything depends on us, but it’s easy.”

What happens is that the gospel itself is lost. The distinction between law and gospel is blurred and all that is left is a kinder, gentler version of the law: “Do this and you will live.” The law proclaimed in our pulpits is not truly God’s overwhelming moral law which drives the sinner to repentance. It is a “you can do it if you try a little harder and turn your frown upside down” kind of message. It is not God’s firey law that leaves us convinced of our need for a Savior which is being proclaimed. It is a list of instructions that are all attainable if we will just be positive and make a better effort. When God’s law is diminished in this way, the “good news” becomes the blessings that we will get in return for our obedience. There is no need for the cross. God’s wrath does not need to be propitiated because sin is not that big of a deal and besides, he loves me anyway.

When preachers and writers make the cross obsolete then what is left may be religious but it is certainly not Christian. There is no good news apart from the cross. Specifically, there is no good news apart from the message of God’s justified wrath being satisfied in the substitutionary death of His Son. It is the message that drives along the entire story line of Scripture. How then can a pastor preach without pointing to the cross again and again? Without the cross we lose the only power promised to us: the power of the Gospel to save all who believe. If the cross be not central to our proclamation and spirituality then we are left with nothing more than a version of Gnosticism.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Further Reading:
On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard O. Forde
Too Good To Be True by Michael Horton
"Joel Osteen and the Glory Story" by Michael Horton - great article!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Spiritual Discernment and the SBC

I have been very concerned for some time about the lack of spiritual discernment in the Southern Baptist Covention. It can be seen in the enthusiastic approval of the church growth movement and the influence of the emergenet church movement. Lifeway Christian Bookstores (owned by the SBC) regularly carry troubling books by the likes of John Hagee, T.D. Jakes, John Eldrege and others. This post from Christian Research Net points out the rise of Contemplative Spirituality in the SBC.

Marketing Jesus

Reformation 21 has posted a provocative article by Stephen Nichols. Dr. Nichols illustrates well the ascendency of a Christian sub-culture that has done more to dilute and trivialize the faith than see it advance.

You may want to check out some of the outstanding books by Stephen Nichols:
The Reformation
Jesus: Made in America
Jonathan Edwards
Martin Luther
Pages From Church History

What Music Cannot Do

God has ordained music and singing for the purpose of His praise. The Scriptures are full of exhortations to God’s people to sing and make music for the Lord. This is a blessing. God was gracious when He gave us the means of music that we might use to honor Him. But Scripture is clear that music in our worship is for two purposes: to honor God and to edify our fellow believers. This is important to understand because in the contemporary church, music has been vested with powers that God never bestows upon it.

One example (and there are many) of this misunderstanding of the purpose of music specifically and worship in general comes from the flyer of a recent conference:
Join us for dynamic teaching to set you on the right path, and inspiring worship where you can meet God and receive the energy and love you need to be a mover and shaker in today’s world…Alongside our teaching program are worship events which put you in touch with the power and love of God.

Churches routinely advertise their “life-changing” or “dynamic” worship that will “bring you closer to God” or “change your life.” Certain worship CD’s promise that the music will “enable you to enter the presence of God.” These kinds of promises reveal a dangerous theological error. Worship, i.e. singing, is viewed as a means to facilitate an encounter with God; it will move us closer to God. This is, at best a sub-Christian view. At worst, it is heresy.

Jesus is the only way to God. He is the sole mediator between God and man. The popular but mistaken notions regarding worship music betray this foundational truth of the Christian faith. They offer music and “the worship experience” as an additional mediator between God and man. They would deny this by insisting that they believe Jesus to be the only way to salvation. But they would be hard pressed to find any biblical support for the idea that music mediates direct encounters or experiences with God. This is a common pagan notion. It is far from Christian.
Vaughan Roberts offers four consequences of viewing music as an encounter with God. I will summarize them.[1]

1. God’s Word is marginalized.
In many Churches and Christian gatherings it is not unusual for God’s Word to be shortchanged. Music gives people the elusive “liver quiver” while the Bible is more mundane. But faith does not come from music, dynamic experiences, or supposed encounters with God. Faith is birthed through the means of God’s Word (Rom 10:17).

2. Our assurance is threatened.
If we associate God’s presence with a particular experience or emotion, what happens when we no longer feel it? We search for churches whose praise band, orchestra, or pipe organ produce in us the feelings we are chasing after. But the reality of God in our lives depends on the mediation of Christ not on subjective experiences.

3. Musicians are given priestly status.
When music is seen as a means to encounter God, worship leaders and musicians are vested with a priestly role. They become the ones who bring us into the presence of God rather than Jesus Christ who alone has already fulfilled that role. Understandably, when a worship leader or band doesn’t help me experience God they have failed and must be replaced. On the other hand, when we believe that they have successfully moved us into God’s presence they will attain in our minds a status that is far too high for their own good.

4. Division is increased.
If we identify a feeling as an encounter with God, and only a particular kind of music produces that feeling, then we will insist that same music be played regularly in our church or gatherings. As long as everyone else shares our taste then there is no problem. But if others depend upon a different kind of music to produce the feeling that is important to them then division is cultivated. And because we routinely classify particular feelings as encounters with God our demands for what produce those feelings become very rigid. This is why so many churches succumb to offering multiple styles of worship services. By doing so, they unwittingly sanction division and self-centeredness among the people of God. Like a Burger King customer the church attendee is encouraged to “have it your way.”

[1] Roberts, Vaughn, True Worship (pp. 59ff).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Baptist Standard on Calvinism

Tom Ascol over at Founders has a link to and commentary on recent articles from the Baptist Standard on the resurgence of Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention.

I Love the Discovery Channel

It's the weekend. I'm having fun.

I Hate Flying

Brian Regan is my favorite comic. Thanks to Justin Taylor for finding this gem.

Friday, April 25, 2008

What's so great about the sovereignty of God?

I found this link to a chapter from Richard Phillip's newest book over at Monergism. Check it out. For those of us who grew up not hearing much about the sovereignty of God it was truly a spiritual revolution to discover the time and attention that the Bible gives to this attribute. What a comfort and cause for praise is God's sovereignty!

Worship at Metro East (3)

There are four principles that guide Metro East as preparations are made for our corporate worship gatherings:

1. Worship must be guided by God’s Word.
“The Bible provides us with God’s directions for the form and content of Christian worship" (Duncan, 57). God never encourages us to worship Him in any way we happen to prefer. Unfortunately, many prominent pastors and church leaders today teach that the form and elements of our worship are neutral and can be changed to meet current cultural expectations. This idea carries with it two deeply flawed assumptions: 1) Form and content are completely unrelated and 2) God has no preferences regarding how He is to be worshiped.

The Old Testament says much more than the New Testament about structures of corporate worship. However, some have erroneously concluded that the New Testament is silent on issues of corporate worship. While it is true that the New Covenant in Christ brought radical changes, these changes did not cast away corporate worship as a mandate for God’s people. It is important to affirm this because of the presence of serious voices within evangelicalism that hold the opinion that all elements and structures of corporate worship were simply temporary arrangements under the Old Covenant. In the New Covenant, they reason, worship has become strictly a lifestyle that defines how we approach our vocation, treat our neighbors and family, recreate, etc. and has nothing to do with corporate structures or meetings. The argument continues that the New Testament church does not gather for the purpose of worship at all but rather for fellowship, preaching, and prayer. And while those elements are certainly vital to the church’s life they are not separate from corporate worship but rather elements of it. Worship is indeed a lifestyle and should find expression in all of life. The New Testament explodes any notion that worship is confined to particular times and places. But nowhere does the New Testament call God’s people away from organized and thoughtful corporate worship.

"Worship is the supreme and only indispensable activity of the Christian Church. It alone will endure, like the love for God which it expresses, into heaven, when all other activities of the Church will have passed away. It must therefore, even more strictly than any of the less essential doings of the Church, come under the criticism and control of the revelation on which the Church is founded." - W. Nichols

Biblical elements of Christian worship:
· Music and singing
Psalm 95:1; 98:1; Acts 2:47; Eph 5:19-20; Col 3:16
· Prayer
Acts 2:42; 4:24-30; 12:5, 12
· Preaching and teaching God’s Word
Acts 2:42, 46; 5:20-21; 11:25-26; 18:11; 19:9-10; 20:7, 20-21
· The Lord’s Supper
Matt 26:17-30; Luke 22:19; I Cor 10:16-17; 11:17-34
· Edification
I Cor 14; Heb 10:24-25
· Orderliness
I Cor 12-14

2. Worship must engage the mind with biblical truth with an eye to increasing our affections for and devotion to God.
Worship is intellectual. That statement is taboo in a church culture that prizes subjective spiritual experience over matters of the mind. Don’t misunderstand, worship is not confined to the mind but it certainly must begin there. How can our hearts properly revel in what we do not understand? Worship begins with facts: Who God is, what God is like, what God has done. God reveals these things to us in the Bible. Worship therefore begins with the revelatory initiative of God and continues with our response of praise and thanks. God is not interested in outward forms of worship that do not engage the heart and result in glad obedience. “This people honors Me with their lips but their heart is far from Me” (Matt 15:8). “To obey is better than sacrifice” (I Sam 15:22). C.S. Lewis rightly observed that we do not properly honor that which we do not enjoy.

3. Songs must focus on God’s attributes and His redemptive plan accomplished in Jesus Christ.
Christian music is for and about God. True, worship is strongly edifying in that we are to encourage one another and spur each other on to greater love and obedience. But it is the proper honoring of God that provides the rationale for this edification. We encourage one another toward greater holiness because God is holy. We are to strive to be more loving because God is love. We are to forgive each other because God in Christ has forgiven us. All of the Christian virtues find their reason in the character of God. Therefore, our worship must be focused on God’s attributes as a means to both honor Him and exhort one another.

In addition to affirming the many attributes of God, Christian worship is incoherent if it does not include a strong Gospel orientation. How can a redeemed people not sing of their Redeemer and the means of their redemption? So worship is a grand rehearsal of the themes of the Gospel: the perfect obedience, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners.

4. Congregational singing is stressed above performance.
In His kindness God has given Metro East many gifted musicians and singers. Each Sunday we are blessed by brothers and sisters who lead us in singing God-exalting and edifying songs. Often times we are encouraged by vocal or instrumental solos that help us reflect on biblical truths concerning God and the Gospel. This is a good thing and will, by God’s grace, continue to be a part of the corporate gatherings of Metro East. However, the stress in our corporate worship will always weigh heavily toward congregational singing. God’s people must not be passive observers as they gather for worship. Neither should we allow our gatherings to breed a performance culture. Through music we love to confess God’s marvelous truth together.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Churches Should Train Pastors

Al Mohler has written a helpful article for Tabletalk on the role that churches should play in training pastors. Sadly this is not a vision that many churches have embraced.

Planned Parenthood and Liberal Compassion

I Found this posted at Steve Camp's blog. This is hitting the news ever so slowly. I have seen Fox News report on it but other than that it seems pretty quiet out there. Hmmmm.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

All In The Family

The discouraging statistics regarding young people who leave the church after high school say more about the family, I believe, than about the church. I do think that entertainment/event driven youth ministry ultimately fails in its stated purpose. But, in the end, parents, particularly fathers must answer to the departure of their sons and daughters from the fellowship of God's people.

Worship at Metro East (2)

How we worship is not unimportant. It matters to God how His people worship Him. We are not welcome to bring to God whatever we please so long as our "hearts are in the right place." There are reasons behind the approach that Metro East takes to corporate worship.

In a chapter he wrote for "Give Praise to God" Ligon Duncan outlines a biblical framework of doctrines that form a foundation for Christian worship:

· The nature of God – Who God is, is the number one determining factor regarding how we worship. The first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex 20:3) finds its rationale simply in the fact that God is and is worthy of worship. The second commandment’s prohibition against the use of images in worship flows directly from the fact that God cannot be adequately pictured (Deut 4:15-19; John 4:24). Our worship of God is to reinforce our knowledge of and love for God and therefore must be informed by what the Bible teaches about God.

· The Creator-creature distinction – God created all there is. We are not co-creators with God nor is He contained within what He has made (Ps 100:3). The Bible upholds and celebrates the distinction between God and His creation. God is wholly and holy other from man (Isaiah 6:1-3). Since God is entirely distinct from us and by nature transcendent and incomprehensible apart from His own self-disclosure, how can we properly worship Him unless guided by what He tells us in the Bible?

· The idea of revelation – This point builds directly upon the former. “Biblical worship inherently entails a response to revelation” (p. 54). We cannot know God unless He willingly reveals Himself to us. In this post-apostolic time God reveals Himself chiefly through His Word. General knowledge of God may be discerned from creation (Rom 1:20) but redemptive knowledge of God requires the revelation of Jesus Christ found in the Bible (Rom 10:14-17). Divine revelation is essential for worship to be proper and honoring to God. Worship embodies a kind of dialogue with God revealing and man responding. “God takes initiative in worship through revelation, promise, and blessing. His people respond in worship through hearing, believing, and praise/adoration/confession/thanksgiving” (p. 55).

· The unchanging moral law of God – The second commandment (Ex 20:4) forbids the use of any images of God in worship. The broader principle to be inferred in this commandment is that we must not introduce into worship anything that God forbids. It is also important to note that this command finds itself not in the temporary ceremonial laws of Israel but the eternal moral law of God. The sons of Aaron were struck dead by God for offering “strange fire” on the altar (Lev 10:1-2). Every indication from the passage is that they were trying to worship the right God but doing so in the wrong way.

· The nature of faith – John Owen, the greatest of the Puritan theologians stated quite convincingly “the argument of faith.” The idea is that since faith is necessary to true worship then right worship is conditioned upon the exercise of true faith. Faith is confident belief in what God has said (Heb 11:1). What is more, the Bible tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6) and “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23). God will not be honored by a worship that is not characterized by confidence in God and His Word.

· The doctrine of carefulness – The worship of God’s people described in the pages of Scripture was characterized by reverence and sometimes outright fear. Where God’s presence was rightly recognized and sin properly reckoned with the people responded in trembling and face-to-the-ground humility. How different this is from the “keep it casual” coffee shop approach to worship in the contemporary church. In Scripture, when God’s clear instructions were disregarded there was a high price to pay. Uzzah was struck dead for not treating the Ark of the Covenant as God had commanded (II Sam 6). The story of Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10:1-2) referenced earlier seems odd, even cruel in a church culture that reveres creativity, “outside the box” thinking, and good intentions. “God is dangerous to those who are careless in worship, however sincere…The way of carefulness is the way of the Word” (p. 57).

· The church’s authority – The church’s authority is of a derivative nature. Jesus is the sole head of the church. Any authority that the church possesses is derived from her Lord and Savior. The officers of the church as defined by Scripture (Eph 4:11-13) have no power to make their own laws but must only serve to administer the rule of Christ as revealed in the Bible. The church has no authority to require obedience to its own commands or “participation in ordinances of its own making” (p. 57). The church is required however to hold forth the commands and ordinances of God as revealed in Scripture.

· The doctrine of Christian freedom – Only Scripture can truly protect Christian freedom. The Bible tells us that while we must act in sacrificial love toward one another our conscience is held captive to God alone (Rom 14:1-4; I Cor 10:23-30; Gal 4:8-11; Col 2:16-23). We must not submit to or require others to submit to man-made worship regulations. By showing us God’s priorities for worship the Bible guarantees our freedom from the bondage to human doctrines and practices. Christian freedom means that we are not required to render any act in corporate worship that God, in His Word, has not called for.

· The nature of personal holiness and obedience – Scripture tells us that “to obey is better than sacrifice” (I Sam 15:22). King Saul found this out the hard way. If we are to obey all that God has commanded then a deep and adoring knowledge of Scripture is essential for it is in the pages of God’s Word alone that we discover what He has commanded.

· The tendency of mankind toward idolatry – Worship must “not be according to the imaginations or devices of men.” Our hearts are idol factories as Calvin observed. Of idolatry, Luther wrote, “we are inclined to it by nature; and coming to us by inheritance, it seems pleasant.” It is clear in Romans 1:19-25 that fallen man is a degenerate truth twister. It is in our nature to distort whatever knowledge of God we receive. This is why Wesley observed that “every man born into this world is a rank idolater.” Our tendency toward idolatry extends not only to the potential objects of our worship but to the very way in which we worship. There were times in Israel’s history (and perhaps today?) when God’s people attempted to worship God in their own way or to adapt their worship practices to cultural norms. Scripture strictly forbids this (Deut 12:29-32).

Southern Baptists In Decline

The SBC's Annual Church Profile (ACP) for 2007 should remove all doubt: The Southern Baptist Convention is in decline. Tom Ascol has posted on this today.

I would like to know if anyone would dare to speculate on why the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is one of the fastest growing denominations?

Why I don't have GPS

Three Cheers for J.I. Packer

Justin Taylor has posted a letter that J.I. Packer and several of his fellow Anglican ministers sent to Bishop Michael Ingham. The bishop threatened to strip Packer and the others of their ordination. The reason, of course, is that these men are evangelical, that is they believe the Bible to truly be God's Word and are fully committed to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and a robust biblical faith.

When a church becomes apostate then genuine believers have no choice but to remove themselves.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Learning From Great Men

Check out this interview with Iain Murray from the Nine Marks Ministries interview series. Mr. Murray is one of my favorite writers. He is also one of the founders of one the most important evangelical publishing houses.

In particular I have benefited greatly from his books:

The Forgotten Spurgeon
D. Martyn Lloyd Jones (vol. 1 & vol. 2)
Revival and Revivalism
Evangelicalism Divided

I Spoke Too Soon

Rocket Man

This may be the best thing ever captured on film.

Worship at Metro East (1)

The Seven Pillars is a tool that Metro East uses to help keep us faithful to those things that are most important to our identity as the Body of Christ. The first of the Seven Pillars is worship. The statement reads:

Honor God with biblical and excellent worship that engages both mind and affections

The church’s highest priority is worship. While evangelism and missions are limited to our time in this fallen world, worship will reach into eternity ( I Peter 2:9ff; Ephesians 1:12). The Westminster Shorter Catechism rightly points out: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

The word worship comes from the old English word “worthscipe” which expressed the idea of attributing worth to something or someone. When we worship God we acknowledge that He is intrinsically valuable. In other words, we worship God for the simple fact that He is worthy.

Worship is the privilege and glad duty of every Christian. We worship God by seeking His glory alone in everything we do (Rom 12:1; I Cor 10:31). It is an offering not merely of words but of our very lives to God. William Temple offers this excellent definition:
Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose – and all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.

In addition to the individual element, worship is also to be understood in strongly corporate terms (Col 3:16-17). We are to proclaim the greatness and glory of God to one another. Worship “is the covenant community engaging with God, gathering with his people to seek the face of God, to glorify and enjoy Him, to hear His Word, to revel in the glory of union and communion with Him, to respond to His Word, to render praise back to Him, to give unto Him the glory due His name”[1]

[1] Duncan, J.L. (editor) Give Praise to God (Phillipsburg: P&R) p. 63.

McLaren Speaks at Willow Creek

This story from Baptist Press shines a little light on Brian McLaren's slippery style of communication. He wants to deny the biblical doctrines of the Christian faith but he usually only has the courage to make ourtright denials in his books and even there he is a bit coy. I am sad that he is influencing so many young ministers. Once again, Willow Creek shows poor judgement.

Scaling Down

This post written by Noel Piper for really made me ask some questions about my lifestyle and the way that most of us American Christians choose to live. How much financial and chronological margin do we have in our lives? Do we have enough so that we are able to give of ourselves and our resources generously? What do my own spending habits teach my children about the necessity of generosity? Do I even think about shopping at a thrift store? How strong is my sense of entitlement? Do I demand the best? the newest? I wonder...

All the Scriptures Testify to Christ

"The inscripturated word centers its attention on Jesus Christ. He is the seed of the woman who will crush the serpent's head. He is the ark to rescue the people of God. He is the holy Angel of Yahweh. He is the seed of Abraham in whom all the families of the earth will be blessed. He is the passover lamb. He is the prophet greater than Moses. He is the pillar of fire in the wilderness. He is the rock struck by Moses. He is the heir to the Davidic throne. He is the thrice holy Lord of Isaiah six. He is the greater shepherd of Ezekiel 34. He is Mary's baby, Herod's enemy, and Simeon's joy. He is the twelve-year-old boy in the temple and the beloved Son to be baptized. He is the healer of the blind, provider for the hungry, and the friend of the outcast. He is the new temple, the source of living water, the manna that gives life, the light of the world, and the Father's true vine. He is the spotless lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and the resurrected lion from the tribe of Judah. He is the ascended Lord, the ruler of the Church, and the returning Judge of all men. The sacred Scriptures are teh instrument by which the Spirit of the living God glorifies Jesus Christ."

Arturo Azurdia from "Spirit Empowered Preaching"

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Dishonesty of Caricatures

Tom Ascol has posted some important thoughts on pastor Steve Gaines recent chapel message at Criswell College. Caricature is the playground of the dishonest, intellectually lazy or both. Brothers in Christ ought to have the decency to not misrepresent the beliefs of others.

This is for Matt Redmond

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Southern Baptist's Most Pressing Issue

Timmy Brister has written an excellent response to Nathan Finn's question, "What are the most pressing issues facing Southern Baptists?" Incidentally, I provide links to both of these gentlemen's blogs.

Together For The Gospel (6)

Here is an interesting article from on Mark Dever's address at T4G.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Another great contribution from Crossway

If you are in the market for a study Bible then this is one you should check out. Also, the Reformation Study Bible and Literary Study Bible are outstanding!

Together For The Gospel (5)

We are back from Together For The Gospel. What a great conference! In addition to the wonderful addresses I enjoyed very much the fellowship of the other MEBC pastors. It was great to fellowship with former college mates and former youth pastor buddies. I will be adding some further comments on the messages that were delivered. Until then, check out the audio of those messages. Of special import were the addresses by Ligon Duncan, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and C.J. Mahaney.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Together For The Gospel (4)

Ligon Duncan, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, MS was the conference's first speaker. The topic of his address was "Sound Doctrine: Essential to Faithful Pastoral Ministry." This was an important message given the fact that the necessity of doctrinal precision is always under attack from within the evangelical community. Well meaning men and women question and sometime even ridicule the notion that doctrine is of central import to the life of the Christian and the ministry of the church.

Dr. Duncan outlined three broad reasons why sound doctrine is essential for faithful pastoral ministry.
First, he pointed out that doctrine is held in great suspicion today.
Many of us have heard the calls for "deeds not creeds," and "Christianity is about life, not doctrine." These may sound attractive in a pluralistic culture but the testimony of Scripture condemns those sentiments to the trash heap. Dr. Duncan demonstrated from God's Word the importance of sound doctrine:
Truth is for joy (John 17:13-17).
Truth is for growth (John 17:17).
Truth is essential for discipleship (Matt. 28:18-20).
Bad theology must not be taught (I Tim. 1:3-5).
Right Doctrine has love in view (I Tim 1:3-5).
Life is inexricably tied to doctrine (I Tim. 1:8-11).
The Gospel (a message) is central to the Christian life (I Tim. 1:8-11).
Truth is unto godliness (Titus 1:1).
Dr. Duncan quoted the puritan William Perkins: "Theology is the science of living blessedly everafter."

Secondly, Dr. Duncan observed that it is impossible to avoid doctrine.
Everyone engages in theology. We all believe certain things are true about God. It is unavoidable. The question is whether or not we will bring out thoughts about God into submission to what He has revealed is true. God has revealed a great deal about Himself to us in the pages of Scripture. How arrogant therefore it is for pragmatists, postmoderns, and various other liberals to claim we simply cannot know for sure what is true. Has God not made much about Himself plain through the means of sixty six books of inspired writ? Has God not spoken volumes (literally) to the truth about mankind, sin, redemption, and the new world to come? Since this is true, does it not therefore follow that God's people ought to be very careful to make sure the content of their beliefs are faitful to what God has made clear?

The third point was in the form of a question: What is doctrine important for?
Doctrine is for God's glory (Romans 11:32-36).
Doctrine is for assurance (John 15:15).
Doctrine is for marriage (Ephesians 5:25ff).
Doctrine is for joy (Philippians 3:1-11).

It was a wonderful session. Ligon Duncan is a man who lives with feet in both church and academy. He pastors a church every week and serves as a professor at the Reformed Theological Seminary. I am thankful for men who help us rejoice in the truth of God and not just the feeling of God.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Together For The Gospel (3)

It has been a non-stop day and I am too tired to adequately post on the messages that were delivered this evening. I will try to do them some justice tomorrow. However, I will say that it has been encouraging to be among 5,000 men who differ in some secondary matters but are fully committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was blessed to meet two men for whom I hold a great deal of respect: Ligon Duncan and Tom Ascol. They were both very kind and gracious. I have links on this blog to Dr. Duncan's preaching ("audio") and Dr. Ascol's Founder's Ministry ("ministries"). Check them out.

Good night for now. Blessings to you.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Together For The Gospel (2)

Here are some video clips of some of the messages from the first T4G conference in 2006. Enjoy!

Together For The Gospel

The MEBC pastoral staff will be attending the Together For The Gospel conference in Louisville this week. I am so thankful to pastor a church that makes such trips possible. I am looking forward to being challenged and refreshed through great messages. My plan is to blog each day on the sessions.

The lineup of speakers is:
Mark Dever
Ligon Duncan
C.J. Mahaney
Al Mohler
John Piper
John MacArthur
R.C. Sproul

The overarching theme of the conference this year is the cross work of Christ, particularly the substitutionary element of the atonement. I continue to be perplexed that the Southern Baptist Convention (the world's largest Protestant denomination) is bereft of such conferences. The one exception I know of was last year's Building Bridges conference held at Ridgecrest. It seems that much of our elected leadership and mega-church pastors would rather talk about politics and church growth methodology than theology and biblical studies.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Created For Community

Great article by Paul Tripp from "By Faith" which is an online magazine from the PCA. It's a great resource. If you would like to read more there is a link under the "Bible and Theology" section of this blog.

Al Mohler on "The Shack"

Take time to listen to this edition of the Al Mohler program. Dr. Mohler discusses the phenominally successful novel "The Shack."

Worship on American Idol?

Bob Kauflin posts these thoughts over at "Worship Matters" concerning the singing of "Shout To The Lord" on American Idol.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Context and Concept

John Piper has some good thoughts on preaching as "concept creation".

When Kingdom Builders Marry

What made the marriage conference with Paul Tripp so helpful (and different) was its Bible-centeredness. Sadly, much of the marriage resources produced for Christians is technique driven. The result is that husbands and wives are told what they must do for their spouse in order to get what they want out of the marriage. It is manipulation rather than ministry.

Tripp outlined three principles concerning marriage that we rarely if ever hear. They are:

Principle 1: A marriage of unity, understanding, and love is not rooted in romance, but in worship.
Worship creates a healthy marriage. In fact, everything we do is somehow shaped by worship because we give allegiance to whomever or whatever we worship. If my life is an expression of worship to the Lord Jesus then my life will reflect His sacrificial love. Our problem is that we are born idolaters. In Romans one Paul writes that our natural tendency is to distort the truth of God and worship the creature rather than the Creator. Tripp defines idolatry as that which happens “when things rise in functional importance above God.”

Idolatry reduces our spouse (and everyone else for that matter) to a means by which we can attain that which we have made an idol (money, security, applause, sex, etc). So, the health of my marriage depends upon a right preoccupation with God (worship).

Principle 2: Sin causes us to shrink our lives to the size of our lives.
This is a profound point. Sin shrinks our lives. Sin makes my life all about a single person: me. My wants, my desires, my ambitions, my feelings drive me in sinful moments. I lose a vision for God’s glory and my neighbor’s good when I sin. In other words, sin shrinks my life to the size of my life.

Principle 3: Marriage, this side of heaven, is always a war between two kingdoms.
Each of us are busily building, advancing, and defending a kingdom. The problem is that I am born with a sinful bent to build, advance, and defend my own kingdom; a kingdom unto myself. My wife, because she is a sinner like me, was born with this same bent. Obviously, when two people who are each trying to rule their own kingdom marry, conflicts will occur.

The apostle James makes it clear that fights and quarrels are produced when desires come to compete with one another (James 4:1ff). Even good things that I desire become fuel for quarrels when they become too important to me. “A desire for a good thing becomes a bad thing when hat desire becomes a ruling thing.” I quarrel when I perceive that someone else’s kingdom is coming into conflict with my own.

Even after conversion we still struggle against our tendency to build our own kingdom. We get angry in traffic, at work, at home, in line for coffee, etc because we encounter people who are not obeying the laws of our kingdom. “God has not given me His grace to make my kingdom work.” One question that Tripp asked is still haunting me: “When was the last time you were angry because God’s kingdom was violated?”

I identified with Tripp’s words that our lives consist primarily of “little moments.” We seem to think that the most formative moments in our lives will be extraordinary ones. However, it is in the seeming ordinary, little moments where our character is formed. An athlete becomes great not in the game but in a courageous commitment to the repetitive and ordinary practices and workouts. Likewise, it is in the little moments when the character of our marriages is formed. It is not the vacations or romantic interludes that shape a marriage. It is in the seemingly mundane moments of helping to clean a room, speak encouraging words, choosing to converse rather than watch TV, and simple acts of service that shape the character of a marriage.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Challenging Ehrman

Craig Blomberg has written a helpful review of Timothy Paul Jones' fine book "Misquoting Truth." Ehrman gets a lot of press and sells a lot of books for challenging the reliability of the Bible. There is a chance that you have a neighbor or co-worker who has been misled. "Misquoting Truth" is a great corrective to Ehrman's errors.

More foolishness from a former president

Proving once again that there is not a third-world thug, communist dictator, or Islamic terrorist that he will not lend credibility, Jimmy Carter has scheduled a meeting with a Hammas leader in Syria. Read more about it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Twin Lakes Fellowship

Great audio from the Twin Lakes Fellowship. Definitely check out the sermon by Derek Thomas (one of my favorite preachers) and the address on public prayer by Terry Johnson.

Refuting "Jesusanity"

Darrel Bock has written a very good article that helps correct the error that there was no functioning Christian orthodoxy during the early years of Christianity. This error often becomes the occasion for a kind of doctrinal ambivalence which separates the ethical teachings of Jesus from the doctrinal content of the New Testament.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Bible Is Not Topical

As I have written in a previous post, the marriage seminar with Paul Tripp was outstanding. Having been familiar with Tripp’s writings and teaching, I was confident that what we would receive would be refreshingly biblical. I say “refreshingly” biblical because much of what it taught and written about marriage by and for Christians is stunningly unbiblical. It often sounds nice because Bible verses will be used. The problem is that those verses are merely sprinkled atop unbiblical presuppositions. The faulty and misleading teaching remains. From his opening words, Tripp established that God’s Word would form the foundation for all that was discussed during the seminar.

His opening remarks were important. He pointed out that “there is a reason the Bible is not arranged topically.” This is so because the Bible was not intended to be used as a compendium of wise sayings to be accessed when the need arises. The Bible is God’s grand narrative of redemption. It is Christ-centered and Gospel-driven. As a result, when we go searching for verses that speak to marriage specifically we are not only selling the Bible short, we are robbing ourselves of the Scripture’s vast wisdom in teaching us how to live as redeemed people.

In his book “Lost in the Middle” Tripp writes:

“Many Christians adopt a ‘Bible-for-the-religious-part-of-my-life” perspective on Scripture. They tend to seek the Bible’s help only where it has spoken clearly about certain topics. As a result they will tend to look elsewhere for the wisdom they need in the vast areas of life that are not directly addressed within the pages of Scripture.

“Or they may fall into another subtle error. If they are Christians, they know that the Bible is a book filled with stunning wisdom revealed by the God who is the source of all wisdom. They will be hungry to know his mind in every area of their lives. Driven by this zeal, they may bend, twist, and stretch Scripture to provide the information that they are seeking.

“Now, both groups of people have made the same mistake. Both view the Bible as God’s great encyclopedia, a topical index of human problems and divine solutions. The one person is a bit sad that the Bible doesn’t speak to more of life. The other person is growingly convinced that the Bible speaks to more topics than he first thought. Both have missed the genius, the core of what the Bible is really about…

“The Bible is a narrative, and because it is a narrative, it tells us everything we need to know about midlife concerns. The Bible is the great story of redemption that encompasses the stories of every human life. It is the overarching ‘everything’ story. It is comprehensive in scope without being exhaustive in content. It gives us wisdom for everything without directly discussing every particular thing.

“The great narrative of the Word of God gives me everything I need to know about God, about myself, about the purpose and meaning of life, and about what is true, good, and beautiful. The Bible is the lens through which I look at all of life. In it I find the truths, values, goals, and hopes that are meant to give shape and direction to my life. All of these things are cords woven into the fabric of one grand and amazing story. It is God’s story. He is the principal actor and the grand hero. Without his story, the doctrines, principles, commands, and promises make no sense whatsoever” (pp. 14-15).

Paul Tripp Ministries
Paul Tripp’s newest book

Paul Tripp

What a great weekend we had at Metro East! God used Paul Tripp to bless us deeply. I will have more to say about the content of the weekend later on but for now take advantage of Dr. Tripp's Sunday evening preaching at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. You will find a link to his preaching under the "audio" section of this blog.

Ehrman vs. Wallace

It looks like Mr. Ehrman is biting off more than he can chew. Dr. Wallace is not among the legion of gullible readers that take in Ehrman's attacks on God and His Word.

Oprah 101

Old Heresy, New Faces

Sunday, April 6, 2008

What is your only comfort?

Kim Riddlebarger on the opening question of the Heidelberg Catechism: "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" In addition to being an encouraging theological reflection, this article will help the reader apprectiate the wisdom of sound catechetical training.

Is the Church too democratic?

Greg Gilbert over at "Church Matters" has written a very good piece on voting in the church. He gives sound advice about the kinds of decisions that must be delegated by the congregation in order to keep the church from being bogged down and divided over petty issues.

Friday, April 4, 2008

What makes Christian music "Christian"?

Some interesting thoughts from Brent Thomas on Christian music and why so much junk is peddled under that banner.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

More on Amillenialism

Great links on amillenialism.

A Primer on Amillenialism

Check out this post by Kim Riddlebarger. He makes an excellent case for "amillenialsim." Actually, amillenialism is a poor name because it implies that those who hold to the historic doctrine do not believe in Christ's reign. Clearly, this is not true. However, it is a clear departure from what has been the majority view of preachers over the last 50 years or so (premillenial dispensationalism).

If you would like to learn more...
The Bible and the Future by Anthony Hoekema
A Case For Amillenialism by Kim Riddlebarger

"Punished with a baby"

With his latest comments Barack Obama has once again shown himself to be a true extremist when it comes to abortion. Check out this article by Michael Gerson entitled "Obama's Abortion Extremism."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Oprah the Theologian (2)

This video and commentary was posted by Thabiti over at "Pure Church." What saddens me most in all this is the number of nice "Christian" people who drink down this pleasant poison.

Why I Preach Expositionally (7)

Biblical exposition teaches biblical theology

Biblical theology is that branch of theological study which focuses on God’s progressive revelation through biblical history. As a discipline, Biblical Theology is vital for its focus on the big picture of the Bible. It guards the Christian from treating the Bible as a treasury of inspiring quotes, a collection of moral stories, or a guide for personal success. Biblical Theology reminds us that the Bible is one great story, God’s story of creation, corruption, redemption, and new creation. In this way, the Bible presents us with a unified and coherent view of reality. It is the lens by which we understand God, ourselves, salvation, and the world.

Graeme Goldsworthy writes:
“Biblical theology is the neglected handmaid of the preacher. While it would be facile and misleading to suggest that preaching can ever be an easy task, it is true to say that biblical theology enables the preacher to relate the various parts of the Bible in a way that prevents preaching on a text from becoming a formality or a springboard for a mass of moralizing exhortations.”

One of the primary failures of contemporary preaching within conservative churches is the lack of biblical theology in the pastor’s study and therefore in the pulpit. Preachers fail to make the connections for their flock. They preach biblical texts as if they were stories or bits of wisdom to be understood independently from the rest of biblical revelation. Promises made by God under the Old Covenant specifically to Israel concerning the Land are taken out of context and used to guarantee New Covenant people financial, familial, and emotional well-being. This is common because too many preachers do not understand the progressive nature of God’s revelation through Scripture. They do not understand that the arc of biblical history moves us inexorably toward the cross. As a result of this error, events such as David’s defeat of Goliath and Daniel in the lion’s den become mere spring boards to tell Christians how to defeat the giants they face or shut the mouths of the lions in their lives. I heard a preacher once who used Easter Sunday to tell the congregation how they can roll stones away in their lives. Biblical Theology guards against such nonsense.

Goldsworthy writes:
“The idea that evangelical pastors can be sent to have ministerial oversight of congregations without first having a solid grounding in biblical theology is one of the scandals of our time. Show me a church without a good appreciation of the Old Testament and biblical theology and I’ll show you a church with a weak understanding of the gospel.”

Without a sound grasp of Biblical Theology the preacher, and therefore his hearers, will not properly understand the law, the promises, or the Gospel. This failure is common as Christians frequently confuse law and Gospel and grasp for promises not made to them all the while missing the “yes” God has given them in Christ. Sound biblical exposition will always teach the nature of God’s self-revelation in Scripture. It will pass along to the hearer an understanding of the grand themes of the Bible and how they are connected. Most of all it will teach the hearer about the depth and grandeur of the Gospel.

Three excellent primers on Biblical Theology:
God's Big Picture by Vaughn Roberts
According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy
The Unfolding Mystery by Edmund Clowney