Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Dying of the Light

Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota is in turmoil. The source of the problem is that the historically evangelical institution has been going through a troubling shift in its understanding of truth. A website addressing the problem called Friends of Northwestern has been formed by some of the current faculty.

In one article Dr. Paul Kjoss Helseth, Associate Professor of Christian Thought, deals with what he believes in the primary problem at Northwestern. Dr. Helseth writes:

In my estimation, the leadership of the College has accommodated postmodernism and thus has endorsed a form of relativism that undermines its ability to: 1) make and defend objective truth claims, 2) formulate sound moral judgments, and 3) faithfully uphold the doctrinal foundation of the College. In short, whether wittingly or not, the leadership has endorsed a way of thinking that denies that human beings can have knowledge of reality as it really is, for reality (this way of thinking imagines) is always and everywhere a “social construction.” Reality, in other words, is what you and I perceive it to be, and since we perceive reality differently for various social, historical, and cultural reasons, we perceive differing realities, realities that are (conveniently) simultaneously both true for me and false for you. Representative of this mindset is a comment that I heard President Cureton make at one meeting of the President’s Task Force on Intercultural Competence during a discussion of a survey the committee conducted on campus perceptions of
intercultural issues. In an attempt to sum up the value of the survey, the President proclaimed matter of factly: “we all know that perception is 99% of reality.”

Whether one agrees with the President and the leadership on this point
or not, carefulobservers must concede that it is the kiss of death to the enduring integrity of the institution because: 1) it reduces truth claims to subjective – and therefore relative – assessments of reality, 2) depending on the particular circumstance, it regards moral values merely as expressions of personal taste or preference, and as a consequence it reduces moral judgments either to expressions of selfrighteous arrogance or, if some form of discipline is involved, to acts of judicial tyranny, and 3) it reduces doctrinal standards to noses of wax that must change from one age or social context to the next, for it regards doctrines not as summaries of what the Bible really teaches, but as interpretations of biblical teaching that must change because they are always bound to a particular time and place. In fact, the notion that “perception is reality” is not just evidence of the potential for drifting into theological liberalism; it is evidence of entrenched theological liberalism itself and of that which makes the dying of the light at Northwestern all but inevitable, for it locates the enduring essence of the Christian religion not in submission to the truth that God has clearly revealed in his Word, but in an altogether vague religious experience that is utterly devoid of objective doctrinal content.

Read the entire article HERE.

When churches, colleges, seminaries, and para-church organizations depart from biblical orthodoxy the result is always ruin. Southern Baptists have seen this in many of their institutions. By God's grace the Southern Baptist Seminaries turned back from their deadly drift into theological liberalism. However, many SBC colleges have not fared as well.

Are not the United Methodists, PCUSA, and the Disciples of Christ proof enough that when the truth is abandoned the light dies? Even the Southern Baptists, an historically orthodox group of churches demonstrates with their current decline that when truth is professed but practically ignored the effect is the same as when truth is denied.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saying Farewell

Today I preached my final sermon as pastor of Metro East Baptist Church. I struggled with what to preach. Ultimately, however, I did not have to look far. Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders recorded by Luke in Acts 20:17-38 seemed to be the most appropriate text. It is a moving scene. Clearly, after three years of ministry Paul had come to love this congregation as they loved him.

"And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me."
Acts 20:22-23

Paul is going to Jerusalem where his future safety is very much in question. This is not an unusual situation for Paul. The Holy Spirit has warned him about coming hardships. We know that Paul suffered various imprisonments, beatings, lashings, stonings, shipwrecks, and slander. He was persecuted from outsiders and betrayed by insiders. And to top it all off he dealt daily with the pressure and the heart break of overseeing the churches.

And now the same Spirit who warns him of these realities also compels him to journey toward Jerusalem. (So much for “Your Best Life Now.”) How do you hold up in the midst of this? How do you keep going when it would be so much easier to give up? One of the keys for Paul was the attitude he had toward his life. How different Paul’s attitude was about himself from what we are taught today. We are told to esteem ourselves, value ourselves, love ourselves. The biblical testimony however which is confirmed through experience is that we are born loving, valuing and esteeming ourselves quite highly.

Notice the attitude that Paul expresses in verse 24:
"But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God."

It is this compelling aim that keeps Paul going through hardships. It the same vision that kept William Carey in India. It is the aim that sent John G. Paton to the New Hebrides. It is the aim that enabled Charles Simeon to preach to locked pews for twelve years. And it is the aim that will keep us faithful even when the road is painful.

Commenting on verse 24 John Stott writes, “[Paul’s] overriding concern is not at all costs to survive, but rather that he may finish the race and complete his Christ-given task of bearing witness to the good news of God’s grace.” This is the aim that kept Paul. It “owned” him, so to speak.

When I read those words I am confronted by how often my life is driven along by small aims. What is the aim of my life? Is there a compelling vision that will keep me buoyant even through the most difficult of trials? If my aim in life is anything less than to finish the course and the ministry of advancing the Gospel then it is too small.

"And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God."
Acts 20:25-27

There is a great sadness in verse 25. Paul is telling very dear people that they will never see him again. He knows that he will never have occasion to pass their way again. But he knows that there is nothing lacking in his ministry among them that he will have to complete later or make up for. And this is true because Paul never seems to lose sight of his calling. He never seems to be confused about what he is supposed to do.

He speaks with great clarity to the Corinthian church. “For I determined to nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” And now to the Ephesian elders he says, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Paul’s calling was not to declare Paul. It wasn’t to make for himself a great reputation or build an impressive ministry. Paul was not called to declare his opinions or give people a lift on Sunday mornings. He was charged under God to declare God’s Word, God’s purposes, God’s counsel.

Sometimes God’s Word is received enthusiastically. Sometimes it is rejected and even hated. But the way in which God’s counsel is received is not ultimately the concern of the shepherd. The calling of the shepherd is to make known the Word of God. We know from I Corinthians that it was Christ and his atoning work on the cross that was the center-piece of Paul’s preaching. And this is not something unique to Paul. This is the calling of all those who proclaim the Word of God.

Christ is at the center of God’s Word and so he must be at the center of all our proclamation. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “I received some years ago orders from my Master to stand at the foot of the Cross until He comes again. He has not come yet, but I mean to stand there until He does.” Notice how Paul casts this calling to proclaim God’s Word faithfully and comprehensively. “I am innocent of your blood.” In other words, “If you are ignorant of or unfaithful to God’s Word it is not because I failed to proclaim it to you.”

Paul rightly identifies this calling as a matter of life and death. Scripture says that few of us should be teachers because we will incur a stricter judgment. Those who teach and preach should tremble a bit at that calling. We have an accountability that will end either in our commendation or our shame. The shepherd is not called to be an ecclesiastical entrepreneur. A shepherd who is unable or unwilling to declare the whole counsel of God may be a nice fellow but he is not a good shepherd.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

More dross from the Osteens

Lisa Miller has posted some insightful comments on Victoria Osteen's new book "Love Your Life."

Miller writes:

Prosperity preachers are neither new nor unique in America, but the Osteens' version seems especially self-serving. Victoria's book betrays her interest in the kind of small gratifications that rarely extend to other people, let alone to the larger world. She recommends that women take "me time" every day, and indulge occasionally in a (fat-free!) ice cream. She writes repeatedly about her love for the gym. Her relationship advice is retrograde dross: submit to your man, or at least pretend you're submitting, and then do what you want anyway. "I know if I just wait long enough," she writes, "eventually my idea will become Joel's idea, and it will come to pass." When I asked her how she kept her two children interested in church, she answered that even though they were a broccoli and lean-meats household, she gave them doughnuts as a special treat on Sundays. All this is fine, in the pages of a women's magazine or a self-help book. But what has God got to do with it?

It should capture the attention of Christians, particularly pastors to read a secular journal which appears to have better theology and discernment than much of the Christian publishing industry and many regular church attendees.

Miller rightly identifies the "small gratifications" in which the Osteens and other prosperity preachers engage. Theirs is a narcisistic message. Even the title of Mrs. Osteen's book puts her at odds with the apostle Paul who, rather than loving his life declared to the Ephesian edlers, "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." To the Philippians he wrote, "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (3:8).

You can read Lisa Miller's entire article HERE.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pro-Life policies DO make a difference

I have heard it said many times, even on this blog that it doesn't matter if pro-life politicians win public office because there is little to nothing they can do about abortion. The evidence, however, tells another story.

Michael New, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Alabama has written an important piece over at Public Discourse. Dr. New writes:
During the past 35 years, the pro-life movement has made some real progress--progress that pro-lifers could at times do a better job of advertising. During the 1990s more states enacted parental-involvement laws, waiting periods, and informed-consent laws. More importantly, the number of abortions has fallen in 12 out of the past 14 years and the total number of abortions has declined by 21 percent since 1990. These gains are largely due to pro-life political victories at the federal level in the 1980s and at the state level in the 1990s, both of which have made it easier to pass pro-life legislation. Furthermore, since the next President may have the opportunity to nominate as many as four justices to the Supreme Court, the right-to-life movement would be very well advised to stay the course in 2008.

Read the entire articles HERE.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Music Break

Michael Card & Phil Keaggy

Between Two Worlds

I've been in Philly since Monday afternoon. I attended an elder's meeting last evening and was encouraged by what I observed. Specifically, I appreciated the heart-felt prayers that were offered up for the people of COS. These are men who care about the people they are charged to shepherd. I am looking forward to the opportunity of partnering with these men in the glad labor of feeding, caring for, and equipping God's people for the work of ministry.

This morning I was encouraged yet again by the staff meeting. Kerry J. does an outstanding job of leading those faithful men and women. There was a healthy mix of prayer, theological reflection, and strategic thinking. For lunch I was blessed to hang out with Kerry J. and Jason G. These are great brothers! They love the church and the cause of church planting. I am looking forward to attending the Vine my first few weeks in town. I am especially anxious to spend time with those of you who attend the Vine and hearing your own thoughts and dreams for that important ministry.

If you are a member or regular attender of COS I hope that will pray for and encourage the elders and staff persons who count it a joy to partner with you in the work of the Gospel.

I am a bit preoccupied with the fact that this coming Sunday will be my last as pastor of Metro East. I try not to think about it too much but so far I haven't been very successful. The thought of my last sermon to my beloved MEBC family makes me very sad. The only way I know how to describe it is that it feels a bit like someone is peeling a piece of flesh from my side.

I am also thinking a lot about John, Doug, Matt, James, and Jason. It has been such a blessing to serve with friends. These are men that I trust. They have some very challenging waters to navigate in the days ahead. I trust the people of Metro East will love and encourage them as they have so faithfully done for me.

If you are a member of Metro East please be praying for the men who are responsible to lead you. Encourage them and let them lead. They are bearing a great weight. Keep the cross before you by determining to serve, love, and practice mercy. You have a wonderful opportunity to be a blessing to our Lord's under shepherds. Metro East can and should thrive in these days. While this depends entirely upon God's grace please keep in mind that God uses means. It is a blessed thing to a means of God's grace.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A "Classical" Election

Victor Davis Hanson is one of our most outstanding historians. His books on Greek history and military strategy are among some of the finest available.

I found THIS lecture delivered by Dr. Hanson at Biola University posted over at Scriptorium Daily.

Here is an explanation:

Following the news day by day can kind of beat up your mind, especially right now with the election, the war, and the financial crisis. These are all big stories that don’t fit daily updates very well. Every now and then it’s nice to hear from someone with a longer memory, who can provide some commentary on current events in greater perspective.

Victor Davis Hanson is that kind of commentator: He’s well informed and stays on top of current events, but everything in today’s headlines reminds him of something around the time of the Peloponnesian war. Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, has taught classics and history at several prestigious schools, mainly in his native California.

On Thursday, Oct. 8, 2008, Hanson spoke at Biola University on “The Election in Classical Context.” The lecture was mainly a student-organized event, planned and financed by the Biola Marines and the Associated Students (with some help from the Christian Apologetics program and the Torrey Honors Institute).

In an hour of lecture and a half-hour of questions and answers, Hanson wove together classical wisdom, the lessons of history, and his distinctive political philosophy. Though he made several comments about the current election and the state of play between the candidates as we move into the final weeks of the campaigns, he mainly explored what he called “other issues that reflect the fundamental differences in the way these candidates view the world.” So if you listen to the lecture this week, his description of the election will be relevant. But even if you listen to it a year after the fact, you’ll get vintage Hanson insight on American history and Western culture.

More resources from Victor Davis Hanson (HERE).

More on "The Shack"

Check out this important review of "The Shack"

Randy Alcorn on Christians voting

Randy Alcorn pretty much hits the proverbial nail on the head.

A year and a half ago, when I first heard about Barack Obama, I got excited. I really wanted to support him. An evangelical Christian told me Obama was prolife. I didn’t care that Obama was a Democrat. I wanted a pro-life, pro-environment, pro-racial equality president who took seriously our need to care for the poor and defend the needy.

Granted, I also wanted someone who wasn’t a New Age anti-industry activist with a “Meat is Murder” bumper sticker. I wanted someone who is committed to national defense, but knows when not to go on offense. I wanted someone who doesn’t hear every Douglas fir screaming when it’s cut down.

But, frankly, I relished the opportunity to show I wasn’t a lockstep Republican. I was, and still am, tired of the Pat Robertson sort of Republicanism that supported
proabortion-Republican-who-publicly-cheated-on-his-wife Rudy Giuliani because he's the only guy who could beat Hillary. (This was a non-prophetic endorsement on too many levels to count.)

That Barack Obama is an African-American was a real plus to me, and not for superficial reasons. I believed it could help further the vision of Martin Luther King in my favorite speech of the modern era, in which he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I get tears in my eyes just hearing that speech in my head...

So, does God care about who his children vote for? In many cases, with not much difference between them, I doubt it. But here's what he says about the needy and afflicted who have no one to help them and are on the brink of death: "For God will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight." (Psalm 72:12-14)

The blood of week and needy unborn children is precious in God’s sight. Please don't tell me abortion isn't the only issue. Of course it isn't. Treatment of the Jews wasn’t the only issue in 1940 Germany. Buying, selling and owning black people wasn’t the only issue in the United States of 1850. Nonetheless, both were the dominant moral issues of their day.

Make no mistake about it. In our own day if we support a candidate who defends abortion, who is dedicated to that cause, we are supporting the killing of children. Yes, even if he’s the coolest candidate to come along in decades.

We will stand before the judgment seat of Christ for our decisions, and a vote is a decision in which we assume responsibility for the known beliefs and moral positions of the candidate.

Read the entire post HERE.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Just in case you think I've changed my opinion...

With my recent posts on abortion there may be some of you that are thinking I have changed my opinion on the role of politics in the church. This is far from true. Again, abortion is not a political issue. It is a moral issue and the church has a responsibility to speak the truth to those who shape our laws.

Regarding politics and the upcoming presidential election let me remind you that we are not at the mercy of any president or political party. God is sovereign. It is God who ordains those who govern us. That is not to say that our attitude ought to be fatalistic. But we must remember that God both establishes and brings down kingdoms. The heart of the king is like a stream in the Lord's hand and He directs it wherever He wills.

Tom Ascol at Founder's Ministries has recently written:

The only thing worse than the political campaigns are the apocalyptic warnings that are being sounded from the right and the left. Somehow, it seems to be more fitting coming from the latter than the former--not because I agree with the left. Hardly. But because so many on the right are quick to invoke God, the Bible and Jesus in getting out the vote.Lest I be dismissed as a pietist or a liberal, let me simply restate
my views
on these issues.

I recognize the church has a prophetic role to play in relation to political powers. "Speaking truth to power" may have been sloganized by liberals but it is an apt description of the church's responsibility to civil authorities. This is a part of the church's calling as the pillar and ground of the truth.

Read Dr. Ascol's entire post HERE.

The Freedom of Choice Act

Check out this important post over at Between Two Worlds.

Regaining Our Prophetic Voice

I hope you will take the time to listen to a powerful message by Dr. Russel Moore delivered at Southern Seminary's chapel. Dr. Moore dismantles the idea that abortion is simply one issue among many others.

“There are churches, and there are pastors, and there are young evangelical leaders who are saying to us, ‘We ought not be single-issue evangelicals. We ought to be concerned about more issues than simply abortion.’ Which means that we ought to be willing to join ourselves and to vote for and to support candidates who will support legalized abortion, who will deny the personhood of children who are still in the womb, because we are able to support them on other issues . . . Many of them are in a desperate quest to say to their congregations and to people potentially in their congregations, ‘I’m not Jerry Falwell.’ And many of them believe that it is missional to speak to people while blunting or silencing a witness about the life of children so that you can reach them with the gospel. . . Some will tell us there are many other issues: economics, global warming—issues I’m very concerned about too. Previous generations have said that as well. Previous generations of preachers have stood in the pulpit and preached until they were red in the face about card-playing and movie-going and tax-policy and personal morality and tobacco-smoking and a thousand other issues, but would not speak to the fact that there were African-American brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus swinging in the trees! And there is judgment of God upon that. And there is here too.”

You can download Dr. Moore's entire message HERE.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Down in Wichita"

Gene Veith is one of evangelicalisms best thinkers. Dr. Veith is the Provost and Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College and the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary. He also contributes regularly to World Magazine and Tabletalk.

In a recent blog post Dr. Veith brings his typical clarity and precision to the issue of abortion. One of the things that stood out to me in this particular post was his mention of George Tiller the notorious abortionist in Wichita. Dr. Veith writes:

Down in Wichita, Kansas, there is a physician by the name of George Tiller. On his website he boasts that he has already performed 60,000 abortions, mostly late-term, and week after week he is killing 100 more unborn babies.

Dr. Tiller does not think of these fetuses as clusters of cancerous cells. He knows they are human because he baptizes some of them before he incinerates them in his own crematorium. You don’t baptize non-humans. Dr. Tiller knows that. He is a practicing Lutheran. His former congregation,Holy Cross of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, excommunicated him as an unrepentant sinner. But the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, which belongs to the ELCA, communes him.

Did I mention that he kills 100 human beings every week and has already done away with 60.000? Sixty thousand! In Nuremberg they hanged some fiends for murdering less than 60 –zero point one percent of Tiller’s toll.

Perhaps this little tale will give even non-believers pause if they have not discarded their conscience, known to Christians as the law God has written upon every man’s heart. One day, of this I am certain, this will indeed result in collective shame – and God knows what other horrible consequences.

You can read the entire post HERE.

Worth Reading...
God At Work
The Spirituality of the Cross
Reading Between the Lines
A Place to Stand


The Future of Abortion

Once again Al Mohler has trained his thoughts toward the issue of abortion.

In his latest post he writes:

The shadow of abortion looms large over the American conscience. Over thirty years after Roe v. Wade, the abortion controversy has not gone away. If the U.S. Supreme Court majority really thought that their decision to create a new "right" to abortion would resolve the issue, history has rejected that assumption. The nation is even more divided on this question in 2008 than it was in 1973.

Each new presidential election is greeted by some with hopes that the abortion issue will go away. The controversy resists disappearance. It cannot merely go away, because both sides in the controversy see the issue in ultimate terms.

The worldview clash is never more clearly revealed than on this grave question. One side defines the issue in terms of a woman's right to control her own destiny. Then, as now, abortion advocates argue that access to abortion is necessary in order to level the playing field between men and women. Feminists argued that abortion rights were and are absolutely necessary to a woman's autonomy and privacy. Abortion rights advocates have argued amongst themselves over the question of whether to admit that the killing of an unborn child is even a tragedy. Whatever the admission, the unborn child's intrinsic right to life is denied. In the classic form of this argument, a woman must have the right to an abortion at anywhere, any time, for any reason, whether or not she can pay for it.

The other side of the argument looks to the unborn child as the most significant moral question. This side bases its assumptions on the claim that a human being, at any stage of development, has an intrinsic right to life that must be respected by all humanity. Thus, any pregnancy that ends in the death of the child is a tragedy. The only distinction between the death of that unborn child and the death of a child after its birth is that the unborn child is not yet known by others to the extent the child born alive soon comes to be known. A miscarriage, like any other natural death, is a
tragedy marked by loss and grief. An abortion, like any other taking of innocent human life, is an act of moral treachery.

Read the entire post HERE.

I know this is an election year and some will see any mention of abortion as an act of mixing faith and politics. But my question is, are there any issues with which Christians ought not to "mix" their faith? Are there any issues to which our Christian faith ought to be agnostic? I have never seen abortion as a political issue. It is a moral issue with political implications. And I do believe abortion ought to be a front burner issue for Christians. It ought to inform the way we vote. It ought to inform the way we interact with our political leaders. Abortion demands an untiring prophetic voice from the church. God help us if we lose our moral clarity by reducing abortion to simply another issue with no more urgency than tax policy, defense spending, and entitlement spending.

Check out this important article from Dr. Robert George of Princeton University.

The Gospel Coalition

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Two More Sundays

I have two more Sundays to preach at Metro East Baptist Church. The thought makes me sad. I am confident however in God's good providence not only in leading me to Church of the Savior but in providing a faithful shepherd for Metro East.

Please pray for both churches during these days of transition.

Currently I am feeling a bit overwhelmed with gratitude. We signed a contract on our home just one week after it was listed. It also appears that God has made possible an oustanding opportunity for our housing in Philly.

It is important to understand that God does not always confirm His will by providing pleasant circumstances. Sometimes following God means following His lead into the valley of the shadow of death. But when, for His own good purposes, God makes our path a happy one then all there is to do is bow low and give Him thanks.

David Wells on WHI

Dr. David Wells was recently on the White Horse Inn discussing some of the ideas in his outstanding book The Courage to be Protestant. If you truly desire to understand how the church ought to interact with postmodern culture then read Wells not MacLaren.

You can listen to the program featuring Dr. Wells HERE.
David Wells on emergent spirituality (HERE).
9 Marks interview with David Wells (HERE).

Monday, October 13, 2008

There I am and love to be

"What shall I say: A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left to us! We are all given to God: and there I am and love to be."

- Sarah Edwards from a letter to her daughter following Jonathan's death.

Because it is the matter of first importance...

Watch and Weep

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Stumbling Block

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17

The Corinthian believers were quarreling and dividing based upon allegiance to particular leaders. And it wasn’t about preferring a sound teacher of God’s Word over false teachers. It would have been great if they’d had that kind of discernment. Rather, their loyalties were based strictly upon their worldly ideas of wisdom and power. Which teacher was most impressive, had the best pedigree, or was the most effective rhetorician?

There were some who followed Peter the great apostle of Pentecost. Others followed Apollos the great orator from Alexandria. Still others attached themselves to Paul the great theologian and evangelist. Then there were those who paid attention in Sunday School and knew they were supposed to say they followed Christ whether it was true or not.

Paul knew that this kind of division had the power to rip the church apart. And this is why Paul is at pains to explain to them that the human means is not the important thing. One plants another waters but it is God who makes it grow. But the even more fundamental problem of this party spirit in Corinth is that it was a denial of the cross – the central reality of the Christian life.

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. For it is written,
 “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25

There are few differences in this world as radical as that which exists between those who are being saved and those who are perishing. The primary evidence of this radical difference is in their attitudes toward the cross of Christ. Christians understand the crucifixion of Jesus and his glorious resurrection as the central event in all history. The cross, for Christians (those who are being saved) is the source of all hope and wisdom and comfort. Yet that same cross is the very thing that hinders others from coming to Jesus at all. This is just as true in our day as it was in Jesus’ day.

In the text cited above Paul helps us to understand two realities: 1) The meaning of the cross in the experience of those who are perishing and 2) The meaning of the cross in the experience of those who are being saved.

1. The cross in the experience of those who are perishing
From the beginning the language used here sheds light on why so many find the cross to be a stumbling block. Paul is not shy about calling all those who deny Christ and his atoning work on the cross “those who are perishing.” This is a key to understanding why the message is so offensive in any age.

If the cross was just one way of salvation among many then it would be more palatable. If the cross was nothing more than an example of God’s suffering and vulnerable love then it would be more acceptable. It is when the cross is understood as an expression of God’s wrath as well as love that it becomes a stumbling block. It is when the cross is understood as God’s wrath being propitiated through His dearly loved Son that it becomes offensive.

Paul tells us here that Jews were looking for signs. They deeply desired something supernatural that demonstrated extraordinary power. And it’s understandable. Under Rome’s fist the Jews had no control over their economy or even their destiny. It is why liberation theology is so popular in the third world. It promises political deliverance.

The Jews expected God to send a Messiah who would deliver them from their earthly oppression. They wanted a political deliverance. They wanted a powerful, divine warrior. And they weren’t going to believe in Jesus unless he demonstrated the power and willingness to be a political deliverer for them.

The Greeks were looking for a different kind of proof. They were the intellectual and cultural elites of the day. Even though they had been conquered by the Romans, some would argue that the Greeks actually won by shaping Romans culture. The Greeks were pretty strict rationalists. They were also fascinated by philosophy. They loved soaring rhetoric. In fact, public debates between philosophers had become a kind of spectator sport for the Greeks.

The Greeks were not looking for miraculous signs like the Jews. They were looking for the most impressive and wisest system of thought. They would remain skeptics unless someone could satisfy them through rational argument. Bertrand Russell, the atheist philosopher said that he wanted to appear before God and say, “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!”

All of this explains why neither the Jews nor the Greeks had much interest in Jesus even though their judgments from very different perspectives. But they were not neutral in their estimation of Christ. They were offended by Christ. And the supreme reason for their disgust with Christ was the cross. Christ crucified was an insurmountable obstacle for those who demanded miraculous signs and those who demanded “wisdom”.

For those who demand powerful miracles the cross is a stumbling block because it is weak. Where is the power in a man stripped naked and slowly suffocating on a Roman cross? For those who demand wisdom the cross is a stumbling block because it is foolish. Where is the wisdom in a God-forsaken and humiliating death? It seems ridiculous to those who are perishing. I have heard George Carlin and Bill Maher literally mock the idea of Jesus dying on a cross so that other people’s sins will be forgiven. What is far more shocking however is to hear those within evangelical circles mock Christ’s atoning work by calling it “cosmic child abuse.”

How could the humiliating death of Christ be the occasion of God’s great salvation for his people? How can we believe that God would pour out his wrath upon his own dear Son in order to pour out his mercy upon sinners like us? What a foolish message!

And yet this is precisely what the gospel declares. The cross turns upside-down all human standards for evaluating power and wisdom. So Paul quotes the prophecy of Isaiah in chapter 29 when God declared that He will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning. For the Jews the Christ should have been a man of supernatural power and political might. For the Greeks the Christ should have been a wise philosopher able to influence his generation with wisdom and rhetoric. But God scandalized them all by sending His Son in the form of a crucified criminal. No wonder the message of the cross is a stumbling block. The term Paul uses is skandalon from which we get our word “scandal.” And yet this “mind-warping paradox” (Richard Hays) is God’s power and wisdom.

2. The cross in the experience of those who are being saved
The description “those who are being saved” is not meant to indicate that salvation has not been decisively accomplished for God’s people. Rather it is a reflection of what Scripture teaches elsewhere that although salvation is an accomplished reality there is also a sense in which it is a continuing reality yet to be fully realized. We can think of ourselves as already having been saved because our justification before God is a completed reality. However, our continuing sanctification points to the fact that salvation is daily being worked out in us. And, of course, we still wait for complete redemption (Romans 8) that Scripture refers to elsewhere as glorification.

Also, please notice that in verse 24 Paul refers to those who are being saved as “those who are called.” It carries with it the idea that those who are saved are not spiritual free agents who came upon the wisdom of God’s salvation in Christ by their own intellectual power or moral clarity. Rather we who are being saved were called out of darkness into his glorious light.

Jews demand signs. Gentiles are looking for something that seems wise to them. But, Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified.” The central message from Paul and the other apostles was what Paul calls the matter of first importance in chapter 15 – The Gospel – Christ crucified and risen. The fact that it is a stumbling block to much of their audience does not deter them from preaching the message of the cross.

Paul is doing just the opposite of what much of the church is doing in our day. George Barna in his book Church Marketing famously wrote that in order to grow the church then preaching must see the audience as sovereign, not the message.
The “wisdom” of many leaders in the church today holds that if we can draw a crowd by preaching on the five keys to good sex then by all means preach on that! “Don’t preach on sin, judgment, God’s wrath, and our divine substitute. Preach something more practical! Preach something that will appeal to your target audience’s felt needs.” Well, in Paul’s day the felt needs of one group was power displayed through miraculous signs. The felt need of the other group was to have a message that suited their notions of wisdom. But Paul and the apostles steadfastly refused to have their message determined by the expectations of the crowd. How instructive this is for the church today that so desires popularity and acceptance.

Paul is not saying that wisdom and power are meaningless. He is not calling people to not care about what is wise and what is powerful. We see here that he has come full circle in his argument. “Those of you who are so concerned with power let me tell you what is truly powerful: the message of the cross. It is not in miraculous signs. It is not in enough military might to drive out the Romans. Power is the message of the crucified and risen Messiah. It is the power to forgive sinners and justify them before Almighty God.”

To those who desired wisdom Paul does not finally conclude that wisdom is wrong, quite the opposite. There is true wisdom to be had. Indeed, God has provided access to His own wisdom. Imagine! The wisdom of God. But we must understand that He will overturn all our worldly notions of wisdom just as surely as He overturns our worldly notions of power. Wisdom is not seen in impressive rhetorical flourishes.

Wisdom; God’s wisdom is seen supremely in the death of His only begotten Son. It is on the cross that we see the ultimate expressions of God’s love and justice; His mercy and wrath. The cross represents the moral genius of God. We see the divine logic of the Gospel which dealt decisively with sin without diminishing either God’s perfect justice or His perfect love. In the cross we see that the power that counts in God’s view is the power that leads us to love and serve. The wisdom that matters to God is that which makes us wise unto salvation.

So, what does this message of the cross have to do with the divisions that exist among the Corinthian believers? Recall that their divisions were based upon following particular personalities. The rationale behind their loyalties was which person is most impressive or will bring me the most status. But the cross brings to nothing the wisdom and power and status of the world. It brings to nothing the supposed power of personality and rhetorical flashiness. The cross causes us to have radically different notions of wisdom and power than what is found in the world. We no longer evaluate people with the lenses of worldly wisdom or power.

In our relationships we have a choice either to wield influence and consolidate power or love and serve. We have a choice to pursue wisdom and power from a worldly perspective or to embrace the way of the cross. Before we speak, before we act will we must ask ourselves, “Is what I am about to say and do conform to the pattern of Christ’s cross?”

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Music Break

Steve Winwood from his Spencer Davis Group days.

How does a white kid from England sing and play the blues this well?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Time for a new Bible?

The ESV Study Bible is finally here and I'm pumped!

The folks at Crossway have outdone themselves. This is, I am sure, the finest study Bible available. A good study Bible includes notes and articles that help you read and better understand your Bible. The supplemental materials in the ESV are written by some of the finest evangelical scholars in the world. Take advantage of the great prices being offered on this historic new Bible.

You can order a copy from...

Westminster Book Store (best price I've found)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Making Sense of Suffering

D.A. Carson recently spoke at Omaha Bible Church on the topic of "Making Sense of Suffering."

Making Sense of Suffering - Session 1Listen - Download (18MB) -->
Making Sense of Suffering - Session 2
Listen - Download (14MB) -->
Making Sense of Suffering - Session 3
Listen - Download (16MB) -->
Gospel Reflections on Trials and Tribulations
Listen - Download (13MB) -->
Preaching and Biblical Theology (Pastor's Session)
Listen - Download (17MB) -->


I wonder if you would know how to answer Bill Maher.
Is there a difference between faith and reason?
Is it rational to believe in the God of the Bible?
How would you defend the rationality of faith in Christ?
How would you explain the appropriateness of God's jealousy?

I have to admit that I am empathetic with Bill Maher. Some of the stuff that Christians peddle is nothing short of ridiculous. I have a "Bible Bar" and "Your Best Life Now" Board Game in my office to prove it. I wonder how often our goofiness gets in the way of our witness? Even Senator Prior concluded that faith in the Genesis account (wrongly characatured by Maher) was probably unintelligent. Of course the likes of Al Mohler, Cornelius Plantinga, and Ravi Zacharius are noticably absent from his film. I don't think Maher would fare well against great minds.

Maher's problem however is not just with the stranger elements within evangelicalism. He is openly scandalized not only by the idea of God but even more by the message of the gospel. For this there is no remedy save the grace of God breathing life into into his unregenerate heart.

Catholics for Life

I am in no way a Roman Catholic. I am a conscientious Protestant. The differences between evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics are significant. But one issue upon which many in both camps are united is the protection of the unborn. Thanks to our Roman Catholic neighbors for this well done message.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Michael Medved has written a helpful review of Bill Maher's anti-religion flick "Religulous." Medved writes:
Maher scrupulously avoids any honest examination of his own spiritual state or pursuit of happiness. At one point, he interacts with his mother and derisively recalls his Catholic upbringing, but there’s no hint as to whether his anti-religious path has led him to enlightenment and satisfaction or merely to bitter loneliness. Since Maher has established himself as a famous and rich comedian, we’re obviously meant to assume that he’s achieved some sort of happiness or fulfillment. But he never reflects on his own lack of a wife, children or family, or his comments elsewhere about his enthusiastic indulgence in drugs and hookers. A bit of honest self-examination might have helped shape a far richer, more provocative film, by undermining Maher’s pose of smug superiority in encountering religious people whose lives, by conventional standards, count as far more “together” and rewarding than his disconnected and decadent celebrity existence.

As a politically correct documentary, “Religulous” demonstrates far more skillful editing and writing than any of Michael Moore’s over-praised screeds, and delivers moments of outrageous and even inventive humor. Even those of us strongly committed to our faith traditions will find laughter impossible to resist at many points in the film. Nevertheless, its snide tone never rises above childish or, more accurately, adolescent contempt, and Maher’s running commentary never even hints at the benefits for believers that keep religion such a potent force throughout the United States. Maher’s concluding fire-and-brimstone sermon (there is no other phrase) flatly declares that the world would find itself greatly and profoundly improved if every form of faith simply disappeared and humanity learned to live in the pure, cold, blinding sunlight of materialist reason.

To follow up on that concept, perhaps Maher’s next project could feature visits to those favored areas of the planet where religion has already vanished, thanks to the efforts of enlightened and determined leaders. North Korea or Cuba might provide ideal places to begin such a tour, and we can only wish Bill Maher luck in negotiating permission from such benevolent and religion-free governments.

Read the entire review HERE.

Carl Sagan Vs. The Matrix

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Russia's Culture of Death

Al Mohler has written a fascinating post on abortion and the continuing decline of Russia.

Dr. Mohler writes:

Reports out of Russia indicate that the recent military clash with Georgia may have represented something more like desperation than opportunism. Murray Feshbach of The Washington Post reports that, all things considered, Russia is actually close to a national collapse.

"Predictions that Russia will again become powerful, rich and influential ignore some simply devastating problems at home that block any march to power," Feshbach reports. "Sure, Russia's army could take tiny Georgia. But Putin's military is still in tatters, armed with rusting weaponry and staffed with indifferent recruits. Meanwhile, a declining population is robbing the military of a new generation of soldiers. Russia's economy is almost totally dependent on the price of oil. And, worst of all, it's facing a public health crisis that verges on the catastrophic."

The health crisis turns out to be a barometer of sorts -- and a warning of a far greater disaster that looms. Russia is falling into the rank of nations with the lowest life expectancy and highest rates of early death. No one appears concerned enough to do anything...

In a twist only Fyodor Dostoevsky might understand, Russian authorities, alarmed by the population collapse, declared 2008 as the 'Year of the Family.' Government campaigns to encourage bearing children were launched, but with no apparent impact. In a stunning disconnect, the government still offers free abortions.

What country can live with aborting 64 percent of its babies? How can such a nation survive? It has brought death into its own wombs. The babies who are born are the lucky few. The vast majority never see life outside the womb...

Lincoln Steffens, an American apologist for the Bolshevik Revolution and the early Soviet regime, once infamously declared of the Soviets: "I have been over to the future, and it works!" Well, the current crisis in Russia may well be a warning of the future collapse of civilization. Once a nation takes the Culture of Death into its heart, what rescue is possible?

Naming and Claiming Bad Loans

I found an interesting article over at Time.com that links some of the financial disasters related to the current subprime crisis to the prosperity "gospel". Readers of this blog know what I think about the dangerous teaching of people like Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, etc. Sloppy theology leads to sloppy living.

In the article, "Maybe we should blame God for the subprime mess" David Van Biema writes:

Has the so-called Prosperity gospel turned its followers into some of the most willing participants — and hence, victims — of the current financial crisis? That's what a scholar of the fast-growing brand of Pentecostal Christianitybelieves. While researching a book on black televangelism, says Jonathan Walton, a religion professor at the University of California at Riverside, he realized that Prosperity's central promise — that God will "make a way" for poor people to enjoy the better things in life — had developed an additional, dangerous expression during the subprime-lending boom. Walton says that this encouraged congregants who got dicey mortgages to believe "God caused the bank to ignore my credit score and blessed me with my first house." The results, he says, "were disastrous, because they pretty much turned parishioners into prey for greedy brokers."

Others think he may be right. Says Anthea Butler, an expert in Pentecostalism at the University of Rochester in New York: "The pastor's not gonna say, 'Go down to Wachovia and get a loan,' but I have heard, 'Even if you have a poor credit rating, God can still bless you — if you put some faith out there [that is, make a big donation to the church], you'll get that house or that car or that apartment.' " Adds J. Lee Grady, editor of the magazine Charisma: "It definitely goes on, that a preacher might say, 'If you give this offering, God will give you a house.' And if they did get the house, people did think that it was an answer to prayer, when in fact it was really bad banking policy." If so, the situation offers a look at how a native-born faith built partially on American economic optimism entered into a toxic symbiosis with a pathological market.

Monday, October 6, 2008

McKnight on MacLaren

An interesting article by Scott McKnight ran in the latest issue of Christianity Today. Dr. McKnight has been a friend to the emergent church movement. He is a bright man who, no doubt, loves the Lord. McKnight gives the emergent folks much more credit than do I. That is what made his article in CT stand out a bit. The article focuses primarily on Brian MacLaren but along the way he makes some good observations about the broader movement.

He writes:

"Very few emergent folks I have encountered have any chance of returning to a robust, traditional evangelical faith. As emergents learned and listened in their evangelical churches and institutions, they realized they could not accept much of what they were being taught. Though they remained within the comfortable confines of these institutions, their faith became ironic. Yes, they were Christians, but not quite what most people meant by that term.

“Evangelical thinkers such as D. A. Carson, R. Scott Smith, John MacArthur, and Kevin DeYoung and Ted Cluck (authors of Why We’re Not Emergent) warn of the dangers of emergents’ theological drift and draw lines in the sand. The emergents I know are numb to both the warnings and the lines; they have heard those warnings and they have crossed those lines. They are surprised by neither and are not likely to turn back. Instead, they are building a new theology that ‘emerges’ from the story they find themselves in—namely, the shift from modernity to postmodernity.”

What was most interesting to me about the article was the series of questions that Dr. McKnight asks Brian MacLaren. I was happy to see McKnight express concern over MacLaren's lack of doctrinal clarity and, yes, charity toward those who challenge him:

“Despite his many proposals in these last two books, McLaren would rather ask a question and create a conversation than propound a solution. This style is an attribute of a good teacher. Yet having said that, I want to voice the frustration of many: McLaren’s willingness to muddy the waters, which is characteristic of Generous Orthodoxy, goes only so far. Many of us would like to see greater clarity on a variety of questions he raises.

“McLaren grew up among evangelicals; we’d like him to show the generosity he is known for to those who ask theological questions of him. The spirit of conversationthat drives much of his own pastoral work urges each of us to answer the questions we are asked, and the Bible encourages those who ask those questions to listen patiently and to respond graciously. The lack of the latter has so far inhibited the former. This can be taken as a plea on behalf of all concerned to enter into a more robust, honest conversation.”

I am not quite as charitable in my assessment of emergent as is Scott McKnight. That said, he is on the right track in this article. I trust he will continue down this path and call Brian MacLaren and other emergent leaders to reconsider their positions.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Good but Difficult Day

I announced to my church family today that I have accepted a call to be the Senior Teaching Pastor of Church of the Savior in Wayne, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia metro area).

It is a process that began at the first of June and was not finalized until a week ago. Through much prayer, conversation, and reflection I became convinced that the Lord was opening a door through which I was to go. It was far from an easy decision. For nine years I have been blessed to pastor a wonderful people. Metro East has truly been a home for me and my family.

I am confident however that this is the Lord's leading. I will treasure my remaining weeks at Metro East and look forward to how God will bless them in the days ahead.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Shall We Have Political Pulpits?

The Alliance Defense Fund made news recently by encouraging pastors to endorse a presidential candidate from the pulpit. Last Sunday, 31 pastors in 22 states did just that. The ADF characterized this as an act of civil disobedience. The pastors in question have risked their church's tax exempt status. That is not necessarily wrong. I know that there is great frustration on the part of many conservative pastors because liberal pastors seem to routinely endorse candidates and even have them in their pulpits. But pastors have no business playing the "he did it first" game.

Mark Galli of Christianity Today has written a thoughtful and clear response to pastors who endorse candidates and party platforms from the pulpit. He writes:

This yearning to tell congregations how to vote arises out of a godly desire to teach how to live daily the Christian life, in political season and out. Politics is nothing if it is not about daily life. Whether it's the place of creationism in the local high-school curriculum, or how many immigrants to welcome into the country, or how much to spend on defense versus welfare — all political decisions affect our Day-Timers or our Form 1040. They influence things like how much our investments earn or what values our children imbibe in the public square.

Pastors are driven by a righteous desire to shape not just church members but also their communities according to biblical standards of justice and mercy.

But these same pastors often hanker to be relevant — and this is nothing but the Devil's third temptation of Jesus. When chatter about candidates and platforms fills the airwaves, when everyone pontificates about the last debate or recent TV appearance, you can seem out of touch with reality or too timid if you don't join in the national conversation and take a public stand. Who wants to go to a church led by an irrelevant coward?

These pastors — and congregations that are egging them on — don't realize that in endorsing political candidates or platforms, they are selling their inheritance for a mess of pottage. . . .

Pastors are right about this much: The election season is a unique moment in a church's life, but not because the pastor has the chance to lobby for his candidate. No, the Christian preacher has the unparalleled opportunity to act as the only sane person in a nation mad for power, the only voice in an ephemeral season filled with lies and half-lies to speak abiding truths — that elections (even "the most important in a generation") come and go, that princes (even "the most gifted in a lifetime") appear and pass away, that nations (even "the greatest in history") rise and fall.

Read the entire article HERE.

This is not to say that pastors should avoid dealing with issues that are dealt with directly or indirectly in Scripture. Pastors ought to speak out on abortion, caring for the needy, homosexuality, racism, and responding to evil doers. Pastors should not be afraid to speak biblical truth to these issues. But pastors err when they endorse a particular candidate or political party. Pastors are heralds of the Gospel of Jesus not spokespersons for politicians.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Spirituality and God's Word

I am preaching from Luke 10:38-42 this Sunday. It is the account of Jesus at the home of Lazarus with Martha and Mary. Often times it is allegorized, making Mary an example of quietism and Martha an example of activism. In this way, the story has been used as a means to justify a mystical approach to spirituality. It is an approach that often elevates the emotions over the mind, the intuitive over the rational.

We need to be careful, however, to not perpetuate a heart-mind polarity as if the heart and mind are in competition with one another. Is not the greatest commandment that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? There is no reason why truth should not be passionate and emotion void of rationality.

How do those of us who live in our moment of redemptive history “sit at the feet of Jesus” as Mary did? Is it not through the means of Scripture? Is it not the Scriptures that point us to Christ from first to last? What is more, the Scriptures speak both to our mind and emotions.

Peter Adam, in his book Hearing God’s Words writes, “Because spirituality has been associated with the heart rather than the mind, it has tended to neglect the value of theological insight and rational debate…So there is a recognizable trend in spirituality…to avoid language that includes clear content, information, evaluation and argument” (p. 163).

The Word of God provides us with both the content and through the power of the Holy Spirit the passion of our spirituality. This is why our spirituality must center on the Scriptures. Clear theology is the not the enemy of passionate spirituality.

B.B Warfield the great 19th century theologian and champion of inerrancy captured the right approach to the spirituality of the Bible when he wrote:

“You must taste of it preciousness for yourselves, before you can apply it to others’ needs. You must assimilate the Bible and make it your own, in that intimate sense which will fix it words fast in your hearts, if you would have those words rise spontaneously to your lips in your times of need, or in times of the needs of others. Read, study, meditate…until the Bible is in you. Then the Bible will well up in you and come out from you in every season of need.”

God's love shown through Christ's substitution

“It is a strange thing that when men talk about the love of God, they show by every word that they utter that they have no conception at all of the depths of God’s love.

"If you want to find an instance of true gratitude for the infinite grace of God, do not go to those who think of God’s love as something that cost nothing, but go rather to those who in agony of soul have faced the awful fact of the guilt of sin, and then have come to know with a trembling wonder that the miracle of all miracles has been accomplished, and that the eternal Son has died in their stead.”

- J. Gresham Machen