Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Carl's right OR Quit your whinning!

I like the Gospel Coalition. I have attended their national conference. I review books for the website. But this morning's post at their site by Kristen Scharold left me scratching my head. Several words went through my mind: silly? goofy? whinning?

Carl Trueman answers the post HERE.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sunday's Sermon

The message on Sunday was part 48 in our series through Hebrews. It is entitled "Seeking What is Yet to Come" and is taken from Hebrews 13:14-16. You can listen to or download the sermon HERE.

ESV Study Bibles

Westminster Bookstore is running a special on ESV Study Bibles - 45% off through December 3rd.

* Actually, the sale Westminster Bookstore is on ALL ESV Bibles. Be sure to check it out...

It's God's Fault OR The prosperity gospel crumbles in the face of reality

We've all seen it. A wide-receiver or running back speeds his way into the end zone and immediately kneels in prayer or raises his finger to the heavens acknowledging God's role in improving said football players stats.

The theology behind such antics is quite simple:
1. God wants to bless you with cool stuff.

2. God can only give you cool stuff if you ask in the right way and often enough.
*Giving money (lots of it) to Creflo Dollar or Kenneth Copeland can help you figure out the right way to pester God into giving you your stuff.

3. Once God finally gives out the goodies to the ones who figured out how to ask the right way, be sure to kneel in the end zone or get a JESVES vanity plate on your new Bentley.

However, for some the process just does not seem to work. They did everything Joel and Benny and Creflo told them to do and yet they still drive a Toyota, work in middle management, or even miss a pass. This brings us to Steve Johnson of the Buffalo Bills. It seems that Mr. Johnson has been busy praising God non-stop but God was apparently busy with less important things than ensuring that the wide receiver would have his hero moment in the end zone.

This cosmic injustice prompted Steve Johnson to tweet his Psalm-worthy dismay:


Read more about the Bill's theologian in residence HERE.

Wilson on Wright on Justification

Doug Wilson has weighed in on the justification debate at this year's meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). Wilson makes some important points that I have been wondering about. Not least of Wilson's concerns is Wrights recent remarks about his lack of knowledge concerning the theology of the Reformers. Is it just me, then, or is it outrageous for a scholar as influential as Wright to make definitive pronouncements about the doctrine of justification articulated by the Reformers?

Wilson writes:

He consistently has set his views over against the "traditional" Reformation view, and adherents of that view may be pardoned for thinking that he knew what he was talking about which, as it turns out, he didn't. His area of expertise is not historical theology of the Reformation era, and it shows. And he managed to write an entire book responding to John Piper without really responding to him, which, let's face it, looks fishy.
Wilson spends the bulk of his time however pointing out some of the deficiencies of Wright's understanding of "the righteousness of God." As you may already know, Wright maintains that "righteousness" means covenant membership thus making justification more about ecclesiology than soteriology. But this is two-dimensional at best.

As Wilson points out:

Great. Righteousness, when applied to a human being, refers to his covenant membership. This view is not Romanist, but there are more ways to be wrong than that. There are numerous ways to show the faultiness of Wright's position here, but let us just take one.

Suppose someone made a historical claim, saying that whenever John Adams used the word patriotic, he was referring to a man's willingness to pay his taxes, and that's all. If that were the claim being made, it would be relevant to the discussion to bring in all the times when John Adams used the word unpatriotic. And if the claim were correct, unpatriotic would need to refer to an unwillingness to pay taxes. If it turns out that the word unpatriotic applies to a bunch of other things, then the claim would necessarily fall.
Read the entire post HERE.

Friday, November 26, 2010

When it comes to the hurting, the church ought to do what actually helps

If you have not yet read When Helping Hurts then you ought to. I would suggest it as a manual for churches that are seeking to help alleviate the suffering of the poor. Sentimental actions certainly make us feel better but some of our cherished programs actually do more harm than good. So the choice is between actually helping the poor or serving our desire to feel good about ourselves.

Take time to watch the following excellent video:

Click HERE for a better view.

The Sufficiency of Scripture...

It is a common mark of conservative American Evangelicalism that the Scriptures are held in high esteem theoretically but held in what may be described as disdain practically. A quick search of the sermon audio section of many conservative evangelical churches tells the tale. "We believe the Scriptures but we don't find them very helpful for preaching." But when the sufficiency of God's Word is abandoned by one generation, the next will abandon it's authority.

According to sixteenth-century Roman Catholics, the Bible was a dark and obscure book that required an infallible interpreter. Given many of the abuses and interpretive mistakes made by Rome, the Protestants were unconvinced and began to argue for sola scriptura, that the Scriptures themselves were clear on the central points of law and gospel. But what are the implications of this view? Does it mean that each of us has the right to private interpretation? What about the role of creeds and confessions? that’s what’s on tap this week at the White Horse Inn.

The growing evangelical agnosticism toward Justification

Much has already been said and written about the recent meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). The theme of this year's gathering was the doctrine of the Justification. Much attention was gained by the fact that N.T. Wright would be 'debating' Tom Schreiner and Frank Theilman on the subject. Wright, an excellent scholar and skilled communicator is now famous (infamous?) for maintaining that the Reformers erred in their understanding of Justification. There is not enough space here to go into the details of Wright's thesis but essentially he states that Justification is on the basis of works. Surprisingly, Wright stated at the ETS meeting that he has never written that justification is on the basis of works but is, rather, in keeping with works. There is a profound difference between those two notions. Disappointingly, however, Wright has indeed written, on many occasions that justification is "on the basis of works." So it is unclear if Wright is truly ignorant about his own writings or if he sees no fundamental difference between "on the basis of" and "in keeping with."

What is becoming clear however is that Wright is a bit of a rock star among many evangelicals who do not seem to think that departures from the historic Protestant doctrine of Justification is any big deal. This is disturbing indeed.

Gene Veith weighs in on this very point:

Might justification by faith end up as just another weird idea those Lutherans believe? That teaching–that we are declared righteous because of the Cross of Jesus Christ–used to be common to all Protestants, but it is under attack today, not just by liberal theologians but by evangelicals.

I was at the Evangelical Theological Society convention very briefly to give a paper on vocation. The overall theme was justification. The keynote speaker was N. T. Wright, the former bishop of the Church of England, who draws on “the new perspective on Paul” to put forward a new view of justification. According to Wright, Luther got it wrong when he thought that we are justified by faith in the sense of being saved from our moral transgressions.

Rather, justification is not soteriological but ecclesiastical. That is, it is not about salvation from sin but about the inclusion of Gentiles into the Church. When Paul talks about the Law that Christ frees us from, he does not mean the moral law; rather, he means the Jewish ceremonial law. Here is how Christianity Today summarized his position a while back ago:

Justification refers to God’s declaration of who is in the covenant (this worldwide family of Abraham through whom God’s purposes can now be extended into the wider world) and is made on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ alone, not the “works of the Law” (i.e., badges of ethnic identity that once kept Jews and Gentiles apart)...

Present justification is the announcement issued on the basis of faith and faith alone of who is part of the covenant family of God. The present verdict gives the assurance that the verdict announced on the Last Day will match it; the Holy Spirit gives the power through which that future verdict, when given, will be seen to be in accordance with the life that the believer has then lived.

My impression is that many and probably most of the papers at the ETS took the traditional stance towards justification and criticized Wright’s position, though Luther and Lutherans were largely absent from the program. Still, I heard that Wright’s reading of Paul Epistles is becoming a settled issue in New Testament scholarship.

The Christianity Today piece linked above sets up a point/counterpoint between Wright’s position and the traditional position articulated by John Piper (again!), who wrote a book criticizing Wright’s view. Would some of you read the whole article? Does Piper get it right? (His seems to be a Calvinist take on the issue, full of “God’s glory” talk, whereas Lutherans would put some of this quite differently. Where do you note the differences?)

It seems to me that Wright’s view of justification makes salvation a matter of works. It also seems to lead to some variety of the social gospel–that the purpose of Judaism and now Christianity is to improve the world. As such, it eviscerates the Gospel.

The notion that Christianity is primarily about inclusion sounds like the language of the ELCA’s latest dictate on homosexuality. Perhaps it lies behind the megachurches that want to include all the people they can, regardless of what they believe.

At any rate, if the doctrine of justification is the article upon which the Church stands or falls, as the early Reformers insisted, today’s Church is tottering.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sunday's Sermon

Sunday's message was part 47 in our series through Hebrews. It is entitled "Let Us Go To Him" and is taken from Hebrews 13:9-13. You can listen to or download it HERE.

Check out discussion guide by Aaron Roberts based upon the sermon HERE.

The source of false doctrine...

Important post from Martin Downes:

What difference would it make if we seriously thought about the origins of false doctrines?

It is vitally important to realise that heresies do not originate in the minds of men and women. Ultimately heresy originates with the devil.

When the apostle Paul takes the Corinthian church to task for tolerating false teachers he compares their approach to the deception of Eve by the serpent (2 Cor. 11:3). But the deception in the Garden is more than a useful illustration. The super-apostles at Corinth are the servants of the devil disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.

Similarly Paul warned Timothy about “deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1), and of false teachers who are caught in the snare of the devil (2 Tim. 2:24-25). After all the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44). One of the English Puritans said that the devil never lets the wind blow for too long in the same direction.

Invoking this category to account for theological aberrations is hardly a way to win friends. However, to ignore it is to close our eyes to the clear testimony of Scripture concerning false teaching.

Wayne Grudem has provided a helpful reminder on this point:
After reading such verses [2 Peter 2:1; Jude 3-4], we might wonder if any of us have the same kind of heart for purity of doctrine in our Christian organisations, and the same sort of sober apprehension of the destructiveness of false doctrine, that the New Testament apostles had in their hearts. If we ever begin to doubt that false teaching is harmful to the church, or if we begin to become complacent about false doctrine, thinking that it is fascinating to ponder, stimulating to our thoughts, and worthwhile for discussion, then we should remind ourselves that in several cases the New Testament specifies that the ultimate source of many false teachings is Satan and his demons.

In Beyond the Bounds, p. 342

Monday, November 22, 2010

How Churches Decline...

Carl Trueman has launched a series of reflections at Ref21 on why so many churches decline into theological liberalism.

The first danger I want to highlight is that of the celebrity pastor who is ultimately so big as to be practically beyond criticism. Some pastors are just so successful as communicators that, frankly, they are placed on a pedestal and become, in both their precept and example, authoritative sources of wisdom to their followers. In part this is because many rightly think that thankfulness, not criticism, should be the appropriate response to seeing the Lord bless a ministry. Who really wants to criticise a man who brings so many the good news? Yet in an age where sheer numerical success and the ability to pull in the punters and keep them enthralled is often assumed to be a clear sign of faithfulness, there are dangers of which we must be aware.

The successful pastor, like every other one called to ministry, must honor his ordination vows concerning what he teaches, and abide by the laws and processes of the church of which he is a minister. Ironically, in our secular celebrity culture, the more famous and wealthy someone is, the more boorish the behaviour we tolerate from them, and the quicker we are to forgive. We must not allow this worldliness to pervade our ecclesiology so that, the more successful a pastor is, the lower the bar we set for doctrine, life, and behaviour. Paul's words on the eldership do not somehow cease to apply once a pastor is invited on the Larry King Show, or passes the 2 000 mark in terms of church membership.

The pastor should also make his local church, his Sunday ministry, and his denominational duties his ministry priority, however mundane and lacking in glamour they may be; and his fellow elders and congregants must still constantly test his teaching by scripture to see if it is faithful. Furthermore, if he is a figure of stature in the wider church community, he must take very seriously his responsibility to that larger constituency which looks to him for wise guidance. If he tells people that justification is no big deal, or that it is fine to have a loose doctrine of scripture, or even if he simply shows by his actions that this is what he thinks, then guess what? People will tend to believe him and act accordingly, and orthodoxy will fade away like the coda at the end of a Bee Gees' track.

Even more seriously, if such a revered pastor sets in place successors who are heterodox or too concessive on crucial doctrines, then, however orthodox and faithful he may personally be, he will be responsible not only for the damage done by such poor appointments while he is alive, but also that done by the same to generations as yet unborn. Praise God for preachers whose ministries are extraordinarily blessed; but let us hold them to the same exacting standards as Paul held the super-apostles in Corinth. Celebrity ministers who act as influential lone rangers in constituencies where there is no accountability can prove remarkably dangerous. And if they do not come up to snuff on standards of life and doctrine, let us not pretend otherwise, or trade off fidelity for eloquence or stage presence. Make no mistake: tomorrow's church will be the epitaph of today's leaders.
Read the entire post HERE.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What we actually teach...

"If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again. That had better be the gospel.

"If the gospel—even when you are orthodox—becomes something which you primarily assume, but what you are excited about is what you are doing in some sort of social reconstruction, you will be teaching the people that you influence that the gospel really isn’t all that important. You won’t be saying that—you won’t even mean that—but that’s what you will be teaching. And then you are only half a generation away from losing the gospel.

"Make sure that in your own practice and excitement, what you talk about, what you think about, what you pray over, what you exude confidence over, joy over, what you are enthusiastic about is Jesus, the gospel, the cross. And out of that framework, by all means, let the transformed life flow."

- D.A. Carson

HT: Justin Taylor

Enculturating Disciple-Making in a Local Church

From an article by Johnathan Leeman and Depak Reju:

1. Structure your own weekly schedule to include time with younger Christians (breakfasts and lunches, running errands, regular sermon reviews, etc.).

2. If you lead a literate congregation, ask the church for a pastoral budget for book giveaways. Have a stack of books in your office ready for spontaneous giveaways. Encourage people to read them and then call you to schedule a time to discuss the book.

3. Look for ways to encourage the mature Christians in your congregation to meet with others (“Hey Joe, who are you having lunch with today?”). And look for ways to network church members with one another (“Hey Joe, have you thought about spending time with John?”).

4. Apply your preaching not just to individuals, but to the church as a whole. (e.g. “What does this passage mean for us as a church? It means we should be willing to encourage and correct one another.”) Look for ways to encourage discipleship and mutual caretaking through your sermon applications.

5. Preach and apply the gospel. Rightly preaching the gospel should produce Christians that perceive their shared obligation to counsel and disciple one another based on their shared family identity in Christ. As often as possible, help the congregation to connect the dots between their profession of faith and the call to active love for one another.

6. Offer adult education classes on discipling or counseling.

7. Offer Sunday School classes on more specific topics like “Fear of Man” or “God’s Will and Guidance."

8. Use church membership classes to set the expectation of regular involvement in one another’s lives.

9. Use the church membership interview to ask the candidate if he or she wants to be involved in a one-on-one discipleship relationship.

10. Stock your church bookstore and church library with good resources on discipleship.

11. Consider putting a CCEF booklet display in your church for featuring these very brief and digestible resources on a vast number of specific topics. If possible, offer these booklets for free.

12. Promote and hand out these same books and booklets from the pulpit.

13. As the pastor, model humility and inviting correction!

14. Consider providing church small groups with recommended resources according to small group type, such as young married groups or singles groups.

15. If resources permit, hire a full-time pastor who can devote himself to counseling.

16. If resources permit, hire a woman who can devote herself to counseling and promoting discipleship among women in the congregation.

17. Encourage church members to attend Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF) conferences and to make use of its online training courses.

18. Offer a counseling training class for the members and/or small group leaders of your church. CCEF offers two excellent curricula—How People Change and Helping Others Change. These user-friendly leader’s guides and workbooks make it very easy for pastors, lay leaders, and members to teach one another how to counsel the Word and how to better care for one another. (www.ccef.org)

19. Read Paul David Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.

20. Encourage the individuals you are discipling for full-time pastoral ministry to read Ed Welch’s When People Are Big and God Is Small.

21. Pray. Ask God to raise up elders, godly women, and mature disciplers within your congregation to help care for the sheep.

Great Prices on ebooks

Monergism Books now has an ebooks section. Check it out HERE.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Justification Still Matters

Modern Reformation launches its book publishing efforts, appropriately, with a volume on the doctrine of justification.

Watch Michael Horton discuss challenges to and the lasting relevance of the doctrine of justification

Read the introduction on PDF

1. Engaging N. T. Wright and John Piper
by Michael S. Horton

2. Confusion about the Law in Paul
by T. David Gordon

3. Does Faith Mean Faithfulness?
by Simon Gathercole

4. The Nature of Justifying Faith
by David VanDrunen

5. An American Tragedy: Jonathan Edwards on Justification
by George Hunsinger

6. Not by Faith Alone: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification
An Interview with Robert Sungenis

7. What "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" Ignores
by R. C. Sproul

8. Ten Propositions on Faith and Salvation
Edited by Michael S. Horton

9. The Doctrine of Justification
by J. A. O. Preus III

10. A More Perfect Union? Justification and Union with Christ
by John V. Fesko

11. Christ at the Center: The Legacy of the Reformed Tradition
by Dennis Tamburello

12. The Discomfort of the Justified Life
by Jerry Bridges

13. Holiness: God's Work or Ours?
by Harold L. Senkbeil

14. Conclusion-Does Justification Still Matter?
by Michael S. Horton

Why we should resist the TSA's "security theater"

Ed Stetzer has weighed in on the latest insanity coming from the TSA. He gives four reasons why we should resist the TSA's new body scans and pat downs.

1. It is wrong.

Yes, I will say it that bluntly. It is wrong to take naked pictures of people as a requirement for them to travel across a free country. And, it is wrong to grope their genitals as a requirement of travel.

Now, honestly, I don't care if they want to look at my lumpy physique all day. In one sense, you would have to consider that a painful sacrifice on the TSA agent's part.

But, I have a wife and three daughters. I teach my children that only their parents or their doctor should see or touch certain places on their bodies. And, I do not think I should add, "Oh, and strangers in the airport."

The TSA has already backed down on groping children under 12. (This video is an example of why this change was made.) But, does that mean that at 13 it is OK for a man alone behind a screen to see naked pictures of my daughter. And, let's not forget how graphic these pictures are. (You can see that many places on the web so I won't link that here-- they are too graphic.)

But, you say, "it is a stranger and you do not see that person." Well, I do not want strangers to see my wife naked. Simply put, that is unacceptable.

The government promises they won't keep the pictures, and (last I saw) they have a little paper sign on the door to the room where they see them. The sign says you can't bring in your cell phone camera. Great idea-- but I wonder how long it will be until some famous movie star ends up on the Internet.

2. It doesn't work.

The TSA has been at work for nine years and has caught a grand total of zero terrorists. The widespread view is that this is simply "security theater." It is a show that won't make a difference.

At some point, you have to recognize that you simply cannot continue the ratcheting up of privacy invasion. Yes, you can take naked pictures and grope people's genitals, but that won't stop a determined terrorist. For example, it is questionable if it would have stopped the underwear bomber and it certainly would not have stopped the Saudi assassin who put explosives in his rectum.

So, if you say we have to be sure to catch every possible person at this check point, you need to start searching up people's rectum. That may seem ridiculous, but I bet naked pictures and genital gropes seemed ridiculous in early October.

What is needed is a system more like the Israeli one-- but politicians lack the political will to do so.

3. It gives government too much power.

Our founders always were concerned that the government not have too much power. They put checks and balances on the government because the natural tendency of government is to grow more, not less, intrusive. And, that is exactly what has happened with the TSA.

For example, the House of Representatives specifically voted to not allow the TSA to use virtual strip searchers as their primary means of security (the Senate never voted). Yet, here they are.

It is the right and responsibility of the people to stand up and demand change. I do not think that you should give up your rights in order to fly.

Now, I am aware of the legal issues involved. And, yes, you DO forfeit your Fourth Amendment rights as a condition of carriage, but that can change if people resist.

4. You should not have to give up naked pictures in order to go to work.

I wonder if you would keep working at Home Depot if they required you take naked pictures and have your genitals touched. Yet, millions of people fly for their job. And, that is exactly what this means for them.

Secretary Napolitano has said that you can choose other means of travel. Really? This week I have been in Dallas, Seattle, Oklahoma City, and Columbia. I have taken ten airline flights in the last ten days-- and they were for my work. Some of us have to fly. I could stay home, but I have talked to several flight attendants this week and they, by nature of their job, have to fly -- and they are mortified that the people they see every day get to see them naked.
Stetzer also offers three ways that we can resist responsibly:

1. Don't fly and tell your airline that you won't. Actually, there is a website with that very suggestion. Call the place where you were going and tell them why you are not coming.

2. Opt out of the virtual strip search machine. And, I would do that by telling the TSA agent (where others can hear), "I do not believe you should have naked picture of me in order to fly -- I opt out." Yes, you will have your genitals handled by a stranger, but I would complain about that as well -- with kindness since they are doing their job.

Now, I recognize that TSA Administrator John Pistole has said (of a forthcoming protest called "opt out day"): "On the eve of a major national holiday and less than one year after al Qaida's failed attack last Christmas Day, it is irresponsible for a group to suggest travelers opt out of the very screening that could prevent an attack using non-metallic explosives." (via) But, I do not think that people exercising their right to not be photographed naked is a threat to national security.

3. Call your Senator today. You can find a list of those on the committee here. I have already contacted my Senators and one on the committee that is meeting right now.

Let's not forget that they have already changed the policies once and public pressure can help them change again. However, the law of the land is what it is. If you choose to fly, you may have to give up naked pictures of you, your wife, and your children or you will have to explain to them that a stranger will touch them.

Read the entire article HERE.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The stunning incompetence of Joel Osteen

Well, perhaps it's more an issue of faithfulness than competence. After all, pastor Joel has been extraordinarily competent in gathering a massive number of followers, selling millions of books, and duping millions of Christians with his winning smile and self-centered teaching. What Joel Osteen has failed to do is be faithful to God's Word and His Gospel.

Recently, Joel appeared with the gals on that contemporary version of the Algonquin Round Table, The View. He was asked about homosexuality. As you can imagine, Joel avoided proclaiming God's truth as much as Joy and Whoopie avoid reasoned conversation.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Silliness Over Security

The current nonsense being visited upon Americans by the TSA (courtesy of the Department of Homeland Defense) is beginning to test our national patience. We desire security. Most of us take the threat of Islamic terrorism seriously. But most of us are also pretty sure that nuns, three-year-old girls, Midwestern housewives, and retired Lutheran pastors are not planning to bring down any airliners. As a former head of security for El Al Airlines described their success (in contrast to U.S. efforts at security): "You look for weapons. We look for terrorists."

Doug Wilson has weighed in on the current silliness at our nation's airports.

What happens is that those in power view everything in the light of what increases their power, making it easier for them to wield. The people themselves generally put up with it for a time, as incremental change follows incremental change. Then one day you show up at the airport two hours early, in order to allow time for the long security lines, for the TSA porn scanner, and the opportunity to be groped by someone in a bus driver's uniform. As you are winding your long way through that security line conga dance, opening bags, taking off belts, shucking off shoes, removing computers from their cases, and generally mooing along with the rest of the herd, answer me this. Why are you doing all this? Why, to preserve your liberties! George Orwell, call your office. But then one day the lights come on in a bunch of minds at the same time, and there is a very edifying commotion at Gate D18.

I do believe that Islamic terrorism is a real threat, and I further believe that something should be done about it. I also believe that our booted and spurred masters are not serious about that threat, and that they are serious about aggrandizing as much legal power as they can, while they can, in the spirit of never letting a good crisis go to waste.
Read the whole post HERE.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Seeker-Sensative Worship?

"As it is written:
'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.'"
- Romans 3:10-11

"It is foolish to structure worship for unbelievers who are seeking after God when the Bible tells us there aren’t any seekers. It manifests a failure to understand the things of God. If we understood the things of God, we would know that there is no such thing as unconverted seekers. Thomas Aquinas was asked on one occasion why there seem to be non-Christians who are searching for God, when the Bible says no one seeks after God in an unconverted state.

"Aquinas replied that we see people all around us who are feverishly seeking for purpose in their lives, pursuing happiness, and looking for relief from guilt to silence the pangs of conscience. We see people searching for the things that we know can be found only in Christ, but we make the gratuitous assumption that because they are seeking the benefits of God, they must therefore be seeking God. That is the very dilemma of fallen creatures: we want the things that only God can give us, but we do not want him. We want peace but not the Prince of Peace. We want purpose but not the sovereign purposes decreed by God. We want meaning found in ourselves but not in his rule over us. We see desperate people, and we assume they are seeking for God, but they are not seeking for God. I know that because God says so. No one seeks after God."

- R.C. Sproul from his commentary on Romans (pp. 89-90)

Keep the Marriage Bed Pure...

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.
- Hebrews 13:4

“In marriage pleasure and fidelity we shout against the inevitability of marital breakup and adultery proclaimed by the godless. Our healthy marriages trumpet the redemption of people from self-centeredness and destructive, immoral life patterns. The bed becomes a mini-church in which the two covenant members sacrificially and ecstatically meet one another’s needs and offer their bodies as living sacrifices in worship before God. We should remind the world that God created the wonder and fireworks of sex long before the advent of the glossy, counterfeit sex-sellers of modern culture.”

George Guthrie from his commentary on Hebrews (p. 448)

Sunday's Sermon

Yesterday's message was part 46 in our series through Hebrews. It is entitled "Continue in Love" and is taken from Hebrews 13:1-8. You can listen to or download the sermon HERE.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The person I love the least...

Tomorrow I will be preaching from Hebrews 13:1-8. It is series of imperatives beginning with a flowing from the command to "let brotherly love continue." During my preparation time I rand across the following words from Dorothy Day"

"I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thanks to Our Veterans...

"Flat, Dull Evangelicalism"

It is no longer a new story that the Crystal Cathedral has filed for bankruptcy. What does this tell us about religion in the US, particularly evangelicalism?

Check out
this devastating article.

In the US, where school psychologists are almost as common as school nurses, we are obsessed with talk therapies because they are in fact ecumenical and secularised versions of evangelical Christianity, our old time religion. Twelve-step programmes, beginning with Alcoholics Anonymous, appropriated the conversion scenario of revivalism, eliminating references to Jesus in favour of appeals to a generic "higher power". Later self-help programmes and therapies dispensed with supernatural intermediaries altogether. Learning the right tricks and gimmicks, thinking the right thoughts and acquiring the proper attitudes would directly, by a law of nature, make good things happen for you.

Schuller, Warren and other new-style evangelical preachers, who focus on this-worldly improvement rather than otherworldly salvation, have not sold out Christianity in favour of secular self-help. They have simply reappropriated those bits of evangelical Christianity that cycled through the secularisation process and emerged as therapies, having in the process acquired the veneer of science.

So if you wonder why Americans are, anomalously, religious it is because we have evacuated religion of all content. There are of course theological doctrines on the books, which church members tick off, in the way that they agree to accept screenfuls of conditions for installing new software. But most have no serious interest in these theoretical matters. Whether signing on for a new therapy or self-help programme, trying out a new diet or a new church, they are looking for a bag of tricks, a collection of gimmicks and recipes that will get them the material prosperity, perfect health, beautiful bodies, ideal relationships and complete happiness to which they believe they are entitled.

I never understood the appeal of these programmes, whether religious or secular: they claimed to produce plain empirical results but were never empirically confirmed. For all the cheerful platitudes and possibility thinking, the Crystal Cathedral was bankrupt.

Beyond that, as a religious believer I was disheartened. Was this all religion was: Cheerful platitudes and advice for successful living? Recipes for doing well in this world and the next? A pleasant place to pass an hour or two: an uplifting programme, brunch in the Welcoming Center and a stroll through the grounds?

I thought religion was a window into heaven, into another world of power, glory and intensity, to the contemplation of divine beauty. When I got religion, I never imagined this flat, dull evangelicalism.

How are Christians to understand the Bible's warning passages?

I have been preaching through Hebrews for over a year. One of the features of Hebrews is its warning passages which have caused some to conclude that genuine Christians can lose their salvation. Tom Schreiner has done important work on those well known warning passages. When you get a chance, take time to listen to Dr. Schreiner's excellent lectures on how Christians are to understand those sobering texts.

Also Dr. Schreiner's book
Run to Win the Prize is outstanding.

This important work on the doctrine of perseverance examines Scripture's warnings and exhortations and their purpose in salvation.

Scripture's commands to persevere, and warnings of the consequences if we fail, have been met with apathy by some, and led others to doubt the state of their salvation. The fearful and eternal nature of these issues warrants careful examination of what the Bible says about perseverance. Thomas Schreiner once again tackles this difficult topic in Run to Win the Prize. Clarifying misunderstandings stemming from his more detailed treatment in The Race Set Before Us (IVP 2001), Schreiner draws together an illuminating overview of biblical teaching on the doctrine of perseverance.

Schreiner details how God directs the collective warnings and exhortations of Scripture toward believers as a means of preservation. We are to think of the call to persevere in light of the initial call to faith, both agents by which God leads us to final salvation. Those looking for a general treatment of the doctrine of perseverance will profit from the challenges and assurances in Run to Win the Prize.

Sunday's Sermon

Last Sunday's message was part 45 in our series through Hebrews. It is entitled The Unshakable Kingdom and is based on Hebrews 12:25-29. You can listen to or download it HERE.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The "descriptive theology" of Biologos

Over at the Biologos, Mark Sprinkle has written an open letter challenging Al Mohler's conclusions about their organization. However, Dr. Sprinkle's letter is frustrating in it inaccuracy about what Mohler has actually written and said. But even more significant is what the letter reveals about the theological trajectory of Biologos. Once the inerrancy of God's Word is dismissed so too is its authority, uniqueness, and sufficiency. It seems the folks at Biologos believe that theology is merely "descriptive" and not "prescriptive."

Mohler has responded:
The writers for BioLogos have been unsparing in their criticism of evangelicals who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible or are proponents of either Intelligent Design or creationism. They initiated a public debate by presenting their arguments in the public square. But now, it appears, they really do not want a public debate at all. They want a one-way conversation.

On November 8, an article appeared at the BioLogos site that was explicitly addressed to me. The author, Mark Sprinkle, had courteously informed me by e-mail on November 7 that the article would appear the next day. And so it did.

In his article, Dr. Sprinkle uses the account of Peter and Cornelius from Acts 10 to argue that “our theology is descriptive, not prescriptive; it is our collective and halting attempt to describe in coherent terms what we know of God by what we have seen of His acts and what we have read in His Word—and, above all else, by what we have seen in the acts of the Word, Jesus.” That argument points very clearly in the direction of minimizing theology and doctrine, but it is also false. Unless a church forfeits all doctrinal responsibility, at least some theology is always prescriptive.

But theology, he argues, “is put to the test not just by our logic, but by the witness of what God is doing in our lives and in the lives of others around the world.” He then states this: “Evidence of the Spirit at work is the only true measure we have of our theology; all other measures, including whether it fits our carefully-reasoned arguments of who is in and who is out, are vanity.”

That is an interesting statement, but it is nonsensical unless there is some means of evaluating what is and is not authentic evidence of the Spirit at work. And that, of course, would mean some kind of biblical and theological test. The effort to escape theology gets us nowhere.

Dr. Sprinkle then turns to me specifically, charging that I regard those involved with BioLogos to be “confused Christians” at best. He claims that my criticism of the arguments made by figures associated with BioLogos amount to my effort to limit “God’s ability to redeem and transform whomever He so pleases, in whatever manner He so pleases.” I would greatly appreciate any reference to where I have ever addressed such an issue with reference to BioLogos. There is none. At the same time, Dr. Sprinkle’s unavoidable implication is that God’s Spirit moves in ways contrary to God’s Word — and that I do flatly and energetically reject.

Dr. Sprinkle writes with concern about “Dr. Mohler’s repeated implications and suggestions, if not outright pronouncements, that I and anyone else who does not reject evolutionary processes are, therefore, not Christian in any but a nominal or diminished way, not authentic followers of Jesus no matter what we say and despite the evidence of the Holy Spirit both in us and working through us.”

At this point, given the public nature of this statement, I have to ask the only question I know to ask. Can these people read? I defy anyone to locate a single sentence where I have ever questioned the salvation of anyone in any context where I have addressed anything related to BioLogos. I have never questioned their salvation, nor have I attempted to interrogate their hearts. I accept at face value that their ambitions and intentions in their own minds are worthy. I cannot read their souls.

I can read their words, however. Their theological arguments are published in the public arena. They are not shy about making their proposals, and they call for a radical reformulation of evangelical doctrine. Their assaults upon biblical inerrancy have not been made in private conversations, but in public discourse. Their argument that the Apostle Paul was wrong to believe in an historical Adam and an historical Fall was made in public, as was their denial of common descent through Adam.

They will have to take responsibility for these arguments. They should expect no less than a spirited debate over their proposals, and it is nothing short of bewildering that they now ask, in effect, for a pass from all theological scrutiny. They accuse conservative evangelicals of driving evangelicalism into an “intellectual cul-de-sac” and into the status of an intellectual “cult,” and then they have the audacity to complain of the “tone” of those who argue that their proposals amount to a theological disaster.

Virtually every form of theological liberalism arises from an attempt to rescue Christian theology from what is perceived to be an intellectual embarrassment — whether the virgin conception of Christ, the historicity of the miracles recorded in the Bible, or, in our immediate context, the inerrancy of Scripture and the Bible’s account of creation.

Dr. Sprinkle kindly invites me “to come and see what I see in the hearts and lives of people in the BioLogos community.” I am willing and eager to enter into any conversation that serves the cause of the gospel. But a conversation that serves the cause of the gospel cannot avoid talking about what the gospel is — and that requires theology.

BioLogos is a movement that asserts theological arguments in the public square in order to convince evangelical Christians to accept their proposals. They now have the audacity to ask for a pass from theological responsibility. That is the one thing they may not have.
Read Dr. Mohler's entire response HERE.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dear Zac...

Discipling Someone?

If you are discipling a newer (or even not so new) believer then I cannot recommend highly enough Stephen Smallman's excellent book The Walk.

Smallman wrote it for the very purpose of two people to work through together. It is structured in three main divisions:

Part One: The Basics
1. What is a disciple?
2. Do I have to go to church?
3. Learning to read the Bible and pray

Part Two: Discipleship Through the Gospel
Step 1 - Know the gospel itself
Step 2 - Know how you came to believe the gospel
Step 3 - Know the benefits of believing the gospel (gospel doctrines)
Step 4 - Live a life that flows from the gospel (gospel obedience)

Part Three: Following Jesus on His Mission

The Four Holy Gospels

I love the art of Makato Fujimora. I was actually a bit surprised when I first saw his work and was immediately drawn to it. I am a lover of representational art. I also appreciate the work of the great impressionists. But I have never had much of an appreciation for "contemporary" or abstract art. My rule of thumb is, "If I can do it then it's not art." This is why I am absolutely confounded by artists such as Mark Rothko (I mean, black canvases? C'mon!), Jackson Pollack (with only a few exceptions), Edward Ruscha, etc.

But Makato's work is special. It is certainly abstract but it is also highly technical. That is, it is clear that what he puts on canvass requires real skill. What results is extraordinarily beautiful paintings that seems to shine with an interior light. Another thing that makes Makato so special is that he is a Reformed Christian whose work is intended to capture the beauty and truth of God as He reveals himself in Scripture. For an artist as well known and respected in the international art community to have clear faith commitments (particularly Reformed faith commitments!) is rare indeed.

I am very excited about a new project from Crossway called The Four Holy Gospels. Watch the following video to find out about this historic publishing event.

Fujimura - 4 Holy Gospels from Crossway on Vimeo.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Only in Philadelphia

This singing of the Hallelujah Chorus occured last Saturday at the old Wanamaker building. For those of you who do not know, the Wanamaker has one of the world's largest pipe organs. Very cool!

Please do not use email for correction...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

On Protecting Our Pastors...

Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
- 1 Timothy 5:19

None are more exposed to slanders and insults than godly teachers.

This comes not only from the difficulty of their duties, which are so great that sometimes they sink under them, or stagger or halt or take a false step, so that wicked men find many occasions of finding fault with them; but added to that, even when they do all their duties correctly and commit not even the smallest error, they never avoid a thousand criticisms.

It is indeed a trick of Satan to estrange men from their ministers so as gradually to bring their teaching into contempt. In this way not only is wrong done to innocent people whose reputation is undeservedly injured, but the authority of God’s holy teaching is diminished. . . .

[T]he more sincerely any pastor strives to further Christ’s kingdom, the more he is loaded with spite, the more fierce do the attacks upon him become.

And not only so, but as soon as any charge is made against ministers of the Word, it is believed as surely and firmly as if it had been already proved. This happens not only because a higher standard of integrity is required from them, but because Satan makes most people, in fact nearly everyone, over credulous so that without investigation, they eagerly condemn their pastors whose good name they ought to be defending.
—John Calvin, Second Corinthians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996), p. 263; emphasis added.

HT: Justin Taylor

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Rebellion of Unbelief

Unbelief is not a lesser kind of sin than, say, adultery. Unbelief is not a passive position whereby the doubter is simply waiting for belief in God to become a more reasonable choice. The Bible is clear. Unbelief is deliberate and damnable sin. It is the fruit of a hard heart. Don't misunderstand. All of us have times of uncertainty. All of us, in the frailty of our incomplete sanctification, will be met with dismay as we struggle to believe as a part of the creation that is still groaning. But resilient disbelief that refuses to heed the witness God has written across creation and within His Word is nothing less than conscious rebellion.

Over at TGC Stan Guthrie has written a helpful article on the real nature of unbelief.
Unbelief is not doubt, however. Unbelief is a calculating, hard-hearted rejection of evidence, whether it be intellectual, physical, historical, or spiritual. It is seeing the clear work of God and turning away. Worse, it is seeing Jesus’s work by the Spirit and attributing it to Satan. Such unbelief is damnable. And how could it not be? The damned unbeliever is only receiving what he has requested. Such unbelief is a form of spiritual blindness. “The light shines in the darkness,” the apostle John said, “but the darkness has not understood it.” It is a matter not of wrong thinking, but of bad character. And it is nothing new.
Read the entire article HERE.

Resource for Family Devotions

Long Story Short is an excellent new book of family devotions by Marty Machowski. Marty is the Family Life Pastor at Covenant Fellowship in Glenn Mills, PA. I was kindly sent an advanced copy of the manuscript and can tell you that it is extremely well done. It is designed to assist parents in taking their children through the major movements of the biblical narrative with an eye toward the central doctrinal and devotional themes.

“Long Story Short is the best material for family devotions I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking for something careful, creative, and Christ-centered—without being corny, confusing, or condescending—look no further. Pastors would be wise to buy this book by the boxful and get a copy into the hands of each family in their church.”
- Justin Taylor, Blogger (Between Two Worlds); managing editor of the ESV Study Bible

“This is simply an outstanding book, and Christian families need it right now. I have never seen a devotional book that is so well suited to family devotions and to children, even as it is faithful in relating biblical truth. This book will help any Christian parent lead family devotions that will be memorable, faithful, and practical for Christian living. I’ll admit this too—parents will find that they love the stories, illustrations, and learning suggestions along with their children. Marty Machowski has written a wonderful book.”
- R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lillback & Trueman on Christianity and Politics

The guys at Reformed Forum do great work. They have recently taped a discussion with Carl Trueman and Peter Lillback on the subject of Christianity and politics. The video below is an excerpt.

The entire discussion can be listened to or downloaded HERE.

God and Evolution

The fires of debate among Christians concerning evolution have been getting a lot of fuel lately. In one corner is Biologos which has been seeking to convince evangelicals to embrace evolution and deny the Scripture's inerrancy. In the other corner are Al Mohler, the Discovery Institute, and many others who uphold the special creation of man and the Scripture's full trustworthiness.

Kevin Deyoung has posted a helpful interview with Jay Richards of the Discovery Institute and editor of a new book critiquing "theistic evolution."

Hi Jay, thanks for doing another interview for us. Maybe you can start by telling us what you’re up to these days. You’ve left Grand Rapids and are back in Seattle, correct?

Yes, I left Acton full time in November 2008. In 2009, I was a Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and worked on a couple of projects related to economics. In September 2009, I also started writing as a Contributing Editor at the The American and the Enterprise blog at American Enterprise Institute, and returned to Discovery Institute full time in February 2010. We’re living in Seattle now, just a few miles from the Discovery Institute offices.

You edited this new book “God and Evolution.” Who are a few of the others contributors and why did you feel compelled to do this book?

Other than me, the book contributors are John West, Stephen Meyer, Casey Luskin, William Dembski, Jonathan Witt, Jonathan Wells, Logan Gage, David Klinghoffer, and Denyse O’Leary. All of these folks are associated with the intelligent design movement, so you might wonder why a bunch of ID folks would get together to write about God and evolution. We did so for several reasons. First, in recent years, there’s been a resurgence of attempts to reconcile theism with Darwinian evolution. Many of these “theistic evolutionists” have claimed that ID is bad theology. Some have even called it blasphemous! These accusations needed a response. Second, while intelligent design arguments are based on public evidence and standard forms of reasoning, the debate over design obviously has theological implications. Finally, speaking for myself, I’ve grown increasingly concerned that many well-meaning Christians are confused about the question of “evolution.” Too many people seem satisfied to say that evolution is just God’s way of creating without being clear on what that means.

We’ve all heard the phrase, but what exactly is “theistic evolution?”

The problem with the word “evolution” is that it means many different things some trivial, some significant and controversial. We use the term “theistic evolution” in the book to refer to those who seek to reconcile more or less traditional theism with Darwinian evolution. Darwinism has always been defined as a purposeless process, so reconciling it with theism is a grade A dilemma. If, in contrast, a person believes that God guided an evolutionary process in creating the various forms of life, they might believe in “evolution” in the sense of common ancestry, but their view would be very un-Darwinian. They would be a design proponent rather than a “theistic evolutionist” in the sense that we use the term.

I know you’ve got a whole book on this topic, so I don’t expect you to rehearse all the arguments, but perhaps you could briefly highlight one or two scientific problems with theisitc evolution?

The key scientific problems with theistic evolution are identical with the key scientific problems with Darwin’s theory. Though we know that Darwin’s mechanism can explain some trivial things, such as antibiotic resistance in bacteria and variations in finch beaks, there’s no evidence that random genetic mutations and natural selection can create major new systems in biology. On the contrary. Much of what we know suggests that Darwin’s “mechanism” is quite limited in scope. One of the popular arguments theistic evolutionists use against ID proponents is the idea that most of our DNA is “junk.” Francis Collins (head of the NIH) is quite fond of this argument. You would expect flotsam and jetsam left over from the Darwinian process, according to Collins, if the system were cobbled together by a mindless process, but not if the system had been designed.

A decade and a half ago, some ID proponents predicted that many of these so-called non-coding regions (regions that don’t code for proteins) would eventually be found to have important functions. Well, evidence for important functions has been reported for years in the scientific literature. It’s becoming clear that some religious scholars were so quick to accommodate Darwinism that they didn’t check the evidence carefully.

You also talk about philosophical and theological problems. Do you think theisitc evolution presents dangers to orthodox Christianity?
Read the entire interview HERE.