You know how anxiety and fear feels—your stomach drops, your neck tightens, your whole body tenses—but do you know what to do when anxiety fills your days and troubles your nights? You’ve probably already tried a few strategies, like denial or working harder, and noticed that they aren’t a permanent solution. If you are tired of dealing with anxiety and worry on your own, then this guide is just for you. As you go through each set of meditations, anxiety will gradually yield to hope, peace, and rest. Of course, this is a lifelong process, but going through this devotional guide, either on your own or with a small group, will kick-start the process and bring lifelong change.
Friday, February 26, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia
April 30 - May 2, 2010
For many Christians, the last days refers to the short period of intense activity immediately prior to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. But according to the apostles, the last days were inauguraged by the first coming of Christ and continue even today. The book of Hebrews thus begins by saying that while God formerly spoke by the prophets, "in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son" (Heb. 1:2). Paul warned Timothy that "in the last days there will come times of difficulty," and then made plain that Timothy was living in these very last days (2 Tim. 3:1). According to Peter, the last days began with the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost. This fulfilled the ancient prophecy, which said, "In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh" (Acts 2:17). Biblically, for us, the last days are these last days, as we are those, Paul said, "on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11).
How do we biblically understand our time as the final age of world history and what does it mean to our faith? This is the question that will be taken up by our 39th meeting of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. Reformed Christians have often shunned the field of eschatology, surrendering end times doctrine to more popular (but less biblical) schemes held by other believers. But eschatology is important! Paul describes the fulfillment of history as "our blessed hope" (Tit. 2:13), a hope made real ot us now through our faith. It was their Christian doctrine of history that thrilled the first Christian disciples: they realized that with the coming of the "last days" they had entered into the reign of the eschatological kingdom that dawned with the coming of Christ. Our faith will likewise be strengthened by a biblical view of eschatology and a right understanding of what it means to live in "this present evil age" (Gal. 1:4) by means of the "powers of the age to come" (Heb. 6:5).
We are excited to return with the PCRT to Sacramento, Grand Rapids, Greenville, and Philadelphia. Our plenary sessions will be offered by some of the most able preachers of our present moment in history: Sinclair Ferguson, Alistair Begg, D.A. Carson, Joel Beeke, Michael Horton, Cornelis Venema, Ligon Duncan, and Philip Ryken. Our preconference seminar this year will be provided by Dr. Venema, author of "The Promise of the Future" and one of the leading Reformed writers on eschatology, on the topic "Interpreting Biblical Eschatology". Through the pre-conference and the conference sessions, our aim is not only to provide biblical clarity on controversial matters, but even more importantly to strengthen believers for life in these last days by our understanding of the Bible's teaching on God's plan for all of history. We look forward to renewing our fellowship with old fiends and beginning new fellowship with those who will join us for the first time. May God bless us as we gather before the Scriptures to study the biblical doctrine of history and last things, all to the glory of the Lord of history, Jesus Christ.
Aileen and I were once members of a church that, after a few years of existence, began to de-emphasize doctrine. Some of the pastors seemed to reach the conclusion that “doctrine divides” and that the church really just needed to focus on evangelism and on “action.” They seemed to determine that a sound theological foundation held in common was unattainable and unrealistic. Therefore, doctrine should be laid aside and the church should rally around the things we had in common—a desire to reach others with the gospel and a desire to serve other people. It was a bit of a naive strategy, of course, and one that was bound to cause problems.
Soon the church began to fracture into camps—those with backgrounds in one Christian tradition began doing things in one way while people from a different Christian background began doing them a different way. For a time chaos reigned. In some small groups members of the church would serve the Lord’s Supper, in others they wouldn’t; in some small groups people were baptizing each other and serving Lord’s Supper to children. There was no standard and eventually the pastors had to step in and intervene. By then, though, it was too late and many of these small groups “defected.” Having created their own theological identity and one that was at odds with that of the pastors, some of these groups left en masse. It was an inevitable result, I think, and one that proved to me that critical importance of doctrine being held in common by members of a church. Though this happened many years ago, I still think about it quite often.
Recently I was flipping through Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed. The book discusses some of the resurgence of Reformed theology in our day and does so, in large part, through interviews with some of the pivotal figures in this resurgence. The book contains a quote by Josh Harris that caught my attention: “Once you’re exposed to [doctrine], you see the richness in it for your own soul, and you’re ruined for anything else.”
It’s no secret that social justice is a hot topic in evangelicalism, a popular pursuit and also controversial. Some see the renewed emphasis on the poor as nothing less than a rediscovery of a whole gospel. Others worry that an emphasis on social justice distracts the church from the primary role of evangelism. I’m not going to propose a third way between these two poles. I think a concern for the poor is essential to Christianity. And I think saving people from eternal suffering is more important than saving people from temporal suffering. That’s where I stand (and most evangelicals, I believe; the disagreement is in the details).The first text Kevin deals with is Isaiah 1:
But I don’t want to settle disputes, real or imaginary. Instead, I want to examine seven major “social justice” passages over the next few weeks. (I’ll try to be concise so you will actually read the posts.) My contention is that these passages say more and less than we think, more about God’s heart for justice than some realize, and less about contemporary “social justice” than many imagine.
The seven passages are: Isaiah 1; Isaiah 58; Jeremiah 22; Amos 5; Micah 6:8; Luke 4/Isaiah 61; and Matthew 25. I know this leaves a lot out, but these seem to be the most commonly referenced sections. If you want my take on Leviticus 19, Leviticus 25, the concept of moral proximity, and the term “social justice” follow the links in this sentence.
The first chapter of Isaiah begins with the Lord’s stinging rebuke of Judah and Jerusalem (1). They are rebellious children (2), lacking in understanding (3). Judah is a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity” (4). Because of their rebellion, God’s people have been struck down, bruised, bloodied, and besieged (5-8). Of course, God offers the hope of forgiveness and cleansing (10), but the dominant theme in the chapter is one of disappointment. God’s people have been wicked.
Well, their failure was not for lack of religious observance. They were meeting together for worship and keeping the festivals of the Lord. But the Lord was not impressed. He could no longer endure their iniquity and solemn assembly (13). He had come to hate their feasts and was burdened with their perfunctory obedience (14). The Lord would not even listen to their prayers (15).
Their problem was one that recurs often in prophetic literature: they were getting the details of religion right but not the heart of it. Outside of “church” the Israelites were doing evil, not good (16-17). In particular, they were guilty of injustice toward the fatherless and the widow, the basic categories in the Bible for the helpless and vulnerable (17).
What was the injustice? “Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them” (23). It seems the Lord was angry with his people because the leaders were oppressing the weak, taking bribes to side with the rich and powerful instead of treating fairly the orphan and the widow.
As we’ll see in most of these passages, Isaiah 1 is a great example of the Bible saying more and less about social justice than we think.
Read the entire article HERE.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25)
Those who hate you will be clothed with shame, and the tent of the wicked will be no more.” (Job 8:22)
Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous— you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God! (Psalm 7:9)
The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. (Psalm 11:5)
Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him! Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword, (Psalm 17:13)
For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. (Psalm 37:17)
For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. (Psalm 37:28)
The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your testimonies. (Psalm 119:95)
I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy. (Psalm 140:12)
8) “Can we find a better way of viewing the future?”
9) “How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?”
These two questions feed one another, and for time’s sake I will take them together. Brian’s “participatory eschatology” seems to be a version of postmillennialism. He criticizes postmillennialism for its “triumphalistic determinism” but thinks that the kingdom will ultimately “spread its influence gradually” as we labor on its behalf.
More interesting is Brian’s vision of the end, which he calls “un-doomed.” Unlike the traditional Christian view which asserts that God will determine the final destiny of the saved and the damned at the last judgment, Brian seems to hold to a universalism in which God’s grace does not relent until everyone ultimately is reconciled to him and to each other.
Brian says that the last judgment “is not merely retributive” but is “reconciling and restoring.” It “will not involve God…pulling down our pants to check for circumcision or scanning our brains for certain beliefs…. No, God will examine the story of our lives for signs of Christlikeness—for a cup of cold water or a plate of hot food given to one in need, for an atom of mercy shown to one who has been unkind or unthoughtful… These are the parts of a person’s life that will be deemed worthy of being saved, remembered, rewarded, and raised for a new beginning. All the unloving, unjust, non-Christlike parts of our lives…will be burned away, counted as unworthy, condemned (which means acknowledged for what they are), and forgotten forever.”
It’s not clear whether Brian sees the afterlife as a series of chances to repent until everyone comes around or whether everyone immediately endures a fiery judgment which burns away their bad stuff and preserves whatever remains. Either way, what’s left of us is ultimately reconciled, or perhaps absorbed into God (depending on whether Brian is a panentheist).
If everyone’s destiny is the same, then it follows that the last thing Brian thinks we should do is tell other religions that they are wrong. He says that we should not “insult other religions” by desiring that “all other religions would be abolished and only our own remain.” We must “learn to discover God in the other” in order to “discover a bigger ‘us,’ in which people of all faiths can be included.” Evangelism would then “cease to be a matter of saving souls from a bad ending” but instead “would invite people into lifelong spiritual formation as disciples of Jesus, in a community dedicated (as we’ve seen) to teaching the most excellent way of love, whatever the new disciple’s religious affiliation or lack thereof.” “This kind of evangelism would…[call] people to a way of life in a kingdom (or beautiful whole) that transcends and includes all religions.”
My initial thought is that it would be difficult to square this view with God’s command to Israel to destroy the idols of the false religions. Brian would probably respond that this is an immature OT God who is inferior to Jesus. But what about Jesus’ words in John 14:6? Brian knows that he must address this verse, and he spends seven pages telling us that this verse does not mean what we think. Apparently Jesus is not telling his disciples that he is the only way to the Father and everlasting life, but rather that none of them “can get to God or the kingdom of God on their own,” which is “not about the afterlife” but about how Jesus will live with them in a new way after his death. I’m sorry if that doesn’t make a lot of sense. I found Brian’s argument convoluted and at more than seven pages, working a little too hard to be taken seriously. Suffice to say that he thinks the traditional view of John 14:6 is a little too Greco and a little too Roman.
I think by now you can guess what I think of these chapters, so here’s an alternate experiment to try. Take Brian’s beliefs about the afterlife and other religions and see if they can make sense of the book of Acts. Look at what Paul said and did on his missionary journeys. Is it remotely plausible that Paul held anything like Brian’s views?
Monday, February 22, 2010
In her first interview with a reporter since taking over the church, she tells NPR that a major challenge came from the Asian church elders, who were upset that a woman was selected to run the American church. Then, they balked at her vision: a national church, which she calls Lovin' Life Ministries, based in New York City, with smaller satellite churches.
In Jin Moon replaced the old holy songs with rock 'n' roll, and fluorescent lighting with concert lighting and a giant video screen...
So In Jin Moon did what the evangelicals do: She used music and technology to spark spiritual experiences. She says it is working.
"Some have called it 'electricity running through my body, feeling of warmth — just feeling as if they're engulfed in love,'" she says. "For those kids who come and have that conversion experience, then their belief system becomes theirs."
From an Evangelical perspective, the statement by Tiger Woods points to the radical distinction between Christianity and Buddhism -- between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the dharma of the Buddha.
Christianity speaks honestly of desire and affirm that wrongful desires can and do lead to sin, destruction, and death. Nevertheless, Christianity does not teach that all desire is wrong. Indeed, the Bible affirms that God made us to desire Him. Even in our sinful state, something within us cries out for our need -- and desire -- for divine forgiveness and redemption.
Christianity does not teach that we should (or could) empty ourselves of all desire, but rather that we should desire the salvation that Christ alone has accomplished for us -- the salvation that leads to divine forgiveness and the restoration of relationship we should surely desire. Once we know that salvation, our desire for God is only increased and pointed to eternity.
Tiger Woods made a remarkable statement of confession. Even as it was couched in the language of the recovery movement and coached by public relation professionals, it should be taken at face value. But the most remarkable aspect of his confession is its Buddhist shape. American Christians should look at those words with care.
A Christian looking at those words sees just how distant they are from the Gospel. The distinction between the Christian and Buddhist worldviews is laid bare for all to see. Tiger Woods should be taken at his word when he grounds his apology and confession in Buddhism. Evangelical Christians should see this as further reason to pray for Tiger Woods. We should respect the integrity and honesty of his statement, but hope and pray that he will one day come to know the salvation and forgiveness of sin that comes only through faith in Christ. We believe that he will not find salvation in renouncing all desire. We would hope instead that he might hear the Gospel and desire Christ.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Please pray for the Rykens in the days ahead as they move their family to Wheaton. Pray also for Dr. Ryken as he takes on this monumental task. Of course, pray for 10th Presbyterian as they say farewell to their beloved pastor.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
[Mark] Galli was told to cut down on the biblical references in his sermon. "You'll lose people," the staff member warned. In a Bible study session on creation, the teacher was requested to come back the next Sunday prepared to take questions at the expense of reading the relevant scriptural texts on the doctrine. Cutting down on the number of Bible verses "would save time and, it was strongly implied, would better hold people's interest."
As Galli reflected, "Anyone who's been in the preaching and teaching business knows these are not isolated examples but represent the larger reality."
Indeed, in many churches there is very little reading of the Bible in worship, and sermons are marked by attention to the congregation's concerns - not by an adequate attention to the biblical text. The exposition of the Bible has given way to the concerns, real or perceived, of the listeners. The authority of the Bible is swallowed up in the imposed authority of congregational concerns.
As Mark Galli notes:
"It has been said to the point of boredom that we live in a narcissistic age, where we are wont to fixate on our needs, our wants, our wishes, and our hopes—at the expense of others and certainly at the expense of God. We do not like it when a teacher uses up the whole class time presenting her material, even if it is material from the Word of God. We want to be able to ask our questions about our concerns, otherwise we feel talked down to, or we feel the class is not relevant to our lives.
"It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out. Don't spend a lot of time in the Bible, we tell our preachers, but be sure to get to personal illustrations, examples from daily life, and most importantly, an application that we can use."
In many churches, there is almost no public reading of the Word of God. Worship is filled with music, but congregations seem disinterested in listening to the reading of the Bible. We are called to sing in worship, but the congregation cannot live only on the portions of Scripture that are woven into songs and hymns. Christians need the ministry of the Word as the Bible is read before the congregation and God's people -- young and old, rich and poor, married and unmarried, sick and well -- hear it together. The sermon is to consist of the exposition of the Word of God, powerfully and faithfully read, explained, and applied. It is not enough that the sermon take a biblical text as its starting point.
How can so many of today's churches demonstrate what can only be described as an impatience with the Word of God? The biblical formula is clear -- the neglect of the Word can only lead to disaster, disobedience, and death. God rescues his church from error, preserves his church in truth, and propels his church in witness only by his Word -- not by congregational self-study.
In the end, an impatience with the Word of God can be explained only by an impatience with God. We -- both individually and congregationally -- neglect God's Word to our own ruin.
So the Tiger finally breaks his silence, and it's a truly great shame. Out of control he may have been, but that he has now publicly apologised "to each and every one" of us "simply and directly" for his "selfish and irresponsible behaviour" is rather sad. He betrayed his wife and children; but what has he done to the rest of us that requires apology? Nada, nowt, rien de rien. He never owed the public anything more than a good round of golf (yes, I despise golf as an old man's walk with a bag of sticks, but if you are in to that sort of thing....). I had actually found his silence strangely admirable, sending a signal to a voyeuristic public, which increasingly regards privacy as a crime, that he didn't care to play by the rules of the nosey and intrusively self-important Facebook generation, and that his family life was nobody's business but his and his wife's. I had thought his refusal to apologise to those he had not offended or hurt (how could he? he didn't even know most of the 'us', to whom he has apologised, in any meaningful way!) as preserving the value of that necessary apology which he needed to make in private to his wife and family. As one of his girlfriends might well be thinking to herself, I guess he's just like all the others......My sentiments exactly.
When you get a chance read Kevin DeYoung's excellent review of A New Kind of Christianity.
I do not write these words carelessly but I do not know any other conclusion but that McLaren is an apostate. What else can we conclude about one who writes that the God revealed in Scripture is "an idol, a damnable idol"? (p. 65).
Mike Witmer sums up Brian's points:
1. Male and female is a dualism which goes back to Plato, so if you oppose homosexual practice you are being Platonic. In Brian’s words, you are endorsing “the Platonic dualisms in which maleness and femaleness are two absolute, eternal categories of being into which all people fit.”Read the entire post HERE.
I covered this in an earlier post (“Interlude”), but let me say again that not all dualisms are Platonic and not all dualisms are wrong. Brian’s argument is also strange from a historical perspective, as Plato himself might have been gay. Plato said that you might remember the form of beauty when you look at a naked boy—an unfortunate statement which would have landed Plato on my state’s sex offender list.
2. Our experience should trump the authority of Scripture. He writes that “If a Christian today experiences gay friends, neighbors, colleagues, or relatives as healthy, sincere, and morally equal” then we must not “marginalize and discredit this experience” just because we think the Bible tells us “that they are rebellious and dangerous sinners, a twisted abomination, a…moral aberrance.”
Here I would appeal to Luther’s theology of the cross, which aptly reminds us to allow the Word of God to interpret what we see rather than the other way around. Brian is reading his Bible and experience from the wrong direction.
3. It is unchristian to say that homosexual practice is wrong for then we are condemning gays “simply for being who they are.”
I address this in chapter 5 of Don’t Stop Believing, so I’ll just say here that we must not allow homosexuals to define themselves by their homosexuality. They are essentially the image of God, not gay. We are actually defending who they are when we say that homosexual practice is not how an image bearer of God should behave. This may be difficult for some to hear, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t humbly and lovingly say it.
4. Brian says that “God demonstrates supreme solidarity…with the ones who are rejected and excluded…with the ones who are humiliated and shamed.” So we who “cast the first stone at the ‘sexually other’” are throwing rocks at God. Got it?
5. Biblically, if God accepted the Ethiopian eunuch (a marginalized sexual other) then we can expect God to be okay with other forms of sexual otherness, including homosexual practice.
Observe that Brian conflates loving a person and accepting what they do, as if bringing the gospel to a eunuch or homosexual connotes acceptance of a homosexual lifestyle. He also equates being a eunuch, which is a non-moral issue, with homosexual practice, which is a decidedly moral one.
6. Rather than criticize homosexual practice we should be thanking gay people, for “By coming out of the closet regarding their homosexuality, gay folks may help the rest of us come out of the closet regarding our sexuality” (emphasis his).
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Brian’s shallow evaluation of our problem (no Fall, original sin, total depravity, or hell) produces a shallow understanding of salvation (love as much as you can and let God’s judgment burn your bad stuff away) which produces a shallow view of the church (it exists merely to stop people from wasting their lives).
But we already have that job covered. Several institutions already exist to stop people from wasting their lives. Colleges prepare people for life, the Army challenges them to “Be all they can be,” and the Peace Corps provides an outlet to serve others. So given Brian’s description of the church’s mission, why do we even need it? Hasn’t his quest to make the church relevant merely succeeded in making it redundant?
Tim Challies has written a review of A New Kind of Christianity and he pulls no punches. Tim is a nice guy but he recognizes that McLaren's reckless deconstruction of biblical faith combined with his unfortunate influence among evangelicals deserves a strong response.
The arrogance of it all is stunning. McLaren is angrier than he has been before and more scornful. Still, though, he presents his ideas coated with the veneer of a false humility. But, handily, he builds into the book the means he will use to answer his critics. He will simply accuse his detractors of having this old Greco-Roman understanding of the faith. We poor fundamentalists cannot be among the new kind of Christian until we have been enlightened to understand the Bible through an entirely new narrative structure. Only then will this all become clear. Until then, more to be pitied are we than any men.
Here, in A New Kind of Christianity it’s as if McLaren is screaming “I hate God!” at the top of his lungs. And swarms of Christians are looking at him with admiration and saying, “See how that guy loves God?” I don’t know what McLaren could do to make the situation more clear. In fact, his book is nearly indistinguishable from many of the de-conversion narratives that are all the rage today. Compare it with Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem and you’ll see many of the same arguments and the same misgivings; you’ll find, though, that Ehrman is at least more honest. He at least has the integrity to walk away from faith altogether rather than reinventing God in his own image.
McLaren says he would prefer atheism over belief in the God so many of us see in Scripture. Well, he is not far off. This new kind of Extreme Makeover: God Edition Christianity is no Christianity at all. It is not a faith made in the image of Jesus Christ, but a faith made in the image of a man who despises God and who is hell-bent on dragging others along with him as he becomes his own god.
There is a crying need in the church today for men to be men. But competing visions for what a man is to be some growing out of popular culture and others arising from flawed teaching in the church are exacerbating the problem. Richard Phillips believes it is possible to cut through all of this confusion by consulting the Bible. Only in the pages of Scripture, he asserts, can men find a clear explanation of their God-given roles as leaders, husbands, fathers, and churchmen.
Beginning in Genesis, Phillips shows that God commissioned Adam to work and tend the Garden of Eden. In these twin tasks, he perceives a template for manhood, one that, when carried out with diligence, provides dignity to men, service to mankind, and glory to God. He then goes on to show that men are called to lead, to love their wives, to discipline their children, and to serve the church of Jesus Christ. Here is biblical exposition of the most practical sort teaching that reveals not only what men are to think but what they are to be.
The gospel, according to McLaren, is not the announcement of salvation through Jesus' atoning work (McLaren rejects the doctrine of the atonement). Instead the gospel, so says McLaren, is a new way of life; a life of love. Well, I certainly will not argue that the Gospel, properly believed and apprehended by faith will lead to love for God and neighbor. But what Brian does is what theological liberals have always done. He abandons the substance of the gospel for the fruits of the gospel. In other words he denies what the gospel is and replaces it with one aspect of what the gospel produces within those who believe - a life of love.
Witmer addresses this issue in two posts (Here and Here).
In this section Brian reveals how liberalism grows in orthodox churches. He says that at the beginning of their movement, he and his friends were “peace-loving people” who didn’t “want to needlessly upset anyone,” so they thought, ‘Maybe this new understanding can simply be added to what we already have, gradually, gently, so people won’t even notice…Maybe we can simply add this kingdom-of-God stuff as fine print on the bottom of our existing theological contracts…without upsetting anyone.”
Brian writes that “Many are still working with this hope, and I wish them luck”—which should be a wake-up call to us all. Brian says that for his part he can no longer pretend, for “the cat is out of the bag” and it’s time to be honest about his new Christianity and admit that it can’t be crammed into the traditional way the church has believed in God...
Here’s the lesson: the easiest time to stop liberal theology is before it flowers and gains a following. If we make room for liberal questions it won’t be long before we’ll be asked to tolerate liberal answers. The little bit of liberalism that we tolerate today will eventually grow to become the dominant view. At least that’s the plan, according to Brian. We’ve been warned.
Postscript: some have asked why my reviews of A New Kind of Christianity have been critical. Isn’t there something positive to say about it? That’s a bit like asking, “Otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?” or “C’mon Paul, the Judaizers got something right, didn’t they?” (If you want to see negative, read Galatians 1, 1 Timothy 1, or anything in Jude).
Brian does rightly remind us to love each other, but this salient point is overwhelmed by his deconstruction of the Christian faith. As an evangelical elder statesman shared with me yesterday, “Brian fails every one of Machen’s tests.” This is my point in chapter 12 of Don’t Stop Believing, but you can see for yourself. Pick up a copy of Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, written in 1923, and you’ll see that what Brian is saying isn’t exactly new, and according to Machen, it isn’t even Christian.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Is God violent?
Brian begins this section by admitting that he has a big problem. It helped his new kind of Christianity to assert that the Bible is our cultural library rather than authoritative constitution, but he still has to wrestle with the fact that this library contains many bloody books. In Brian’s words, he needs a way to deal with the numerous “violent images, cruel images, [and] un-Christlike images” of God that are found in the Bible.
Most troubling is the God who appears in the Noah narrative. Brian complains that “a god who mandates an intentional supernatural disaster leading to unparalleled genocide is hardly worthy of belief, much less worship. How can you ask your children—or nonchurch colleagues and neighbors—to honor a deity so uncreative, overreactive, and utterly capricious regarding life?”
Brian solves his problem by misusing the concept of progressive revelation. Everyone recognizes that God reveals more of himself as the Scripture narrative progresses. In the Old Testament God told the Israelites that he was one (Deut. 6:4), and then at the incarnation and Pentecost he revealed that he was also two and then three. But note that God’s future revelation expands rather than contradicts what came before. New Testament Christians still believe that God is one, as much as any OT Jew, but they now confess that God’s oneness also makes room for three persons.
Conversely, Brian asserts that future “revelations” supplant and correct earlier passages of Scripture. So while he cannot “defend the view of God in the Noah story as morally acceptable, ethically satisfying, and theologically mature,” he concedes that this early, immature view of God was at least a step up from the stories of God told by other religions of its day.
I put the term “revelation” in quotation marks above because Brian seems to think that the God we find in Scripture is merely what humans at the time thought of him. He writes: “when we ask why God appears so violent in some passages of the Bible, we can suggest this hypothesis: if the human beings who produced those passages were violent and genocidal in their own development, they would naturally see God through the lens of their experience. The fact that those disturbing descriptions are found in the Bible doesn’t mean that we are stuck with them….”
One aspect of the demands of love is the guarding of the sheep from the danger of error. Heresy has a siren's voice and the devil uses its sweet sound to lure the Church away from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. A false Christ, who can never be the proper object of our affections, can never make the new Eve fruitful in the world (2 Cor. 11:24). That is why heresy is destructive, it cannot produce spiritual fruit, there is no power in it to bring a new creation.
Pastors, elders, the demands of love require you to protect the Church from heresies, even when people will call you unloving for criticizing the views of others. To do so, in our age, may well be called unloving, for our age has confused tolerance with love, but the insult is ill judged.
Protecting the Church from error is a loving act, and, therefore, it must be done with the appropriate affections. We are not to love a fight, we are to fight because we are motivated by love.
"The Shepherd Leader is a book that strives to bring the importance of shepherding to the forefront of our thinking about what church leaders should do and, therefore, what they should be. Too many church leaders perceive of themselves as a "board of directors" when the Bible is clear that they are to know, feed, lead, and protect the flock entrusted to their care."
"Tim Witmer is the faithful shepherd of a growing, urban, multi-ethnic church. In this useful and important book, he explains a biblical, practical model for shepherding ministry in a local church. We plan to use The Shepherd Leader as a primary resource for all of our candidates, interns, elders, and pastors -- our shepherds and shepherds-in-training."
- Phillip Ryken
"The Shepherd Leader is just the kind of book that those who know Tim Witmer and his work have been hoping he would write—an intelligent, biblical, balanced, pastoral, sensitive and realistic exposition of the nature of true leadership in the Christian church. And there is a double bonus: this book is as readable as it is interesting."
- Sinclair B. Ferguson
"Tim Witmer ably guides us into rich pastures of writing on what it truly means to “shepherd” God’s people. For men called to love sheep, the results both compel and convict. For leaders who long to be faithful in the field, this book offers a wealth of theological and practical insight.ing about what church leaders should do and, therefore, what they should be. Too many church leaders perceive of themselves as a “board of directors” when the Bible is clear that they are to know, feed, lead, and protect the flock entrusted to their care."
- Dave Harvey, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Covenant Fellowship Church
Monday, February 15, 2010
- C.H. Spurgeon
There are few men that I look to with the same interest and respect as I do Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He was a pastor, preacher, writer, evangelist, teacher, mentor, philanthropist, innovator, thinker, husband, and father. He was and is, in my mind, without peer. I am hopeless to sum up Charles Spurgeon’s life in this limited space. However, I will attempt and feebly so, to highlight a few things that make him a hero to me and a worthy subject for the contemporary church’s consideration.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born into a Christian family in Essex on June 19, 1834. In spite of godly surroundings and the fervent prayers of his mother Charles was not converted to Christ until the age of 16. The knowledge of his own sinfulness weighed heavy upon his young soul. Later, he would write, “I reckoned that the most defiled creature…was a better thing than myself, for I had sinned against Almighty God.” This proper understanding of sin would make Spurgeon an effective preacher of the free grace of God. From his late teens until he was 19 years old (1851-1854) Charles pastored a Baptist church in a small village called Waterbeach. The church grew from 40 to 100 during that time and Spurgeon became convinced that he would spend the rest of his life serving Christ and His church as a preacher of the Gospel.
While still only 19 Spurgeon accepted a call to pastor the historic but dying Park Street Chapel, a Baptist congregation in London. The worship center was built to seat 1,200 but saw fewer than 300 in attendance. Within weeks the once almost empty church was overflowing with people eager to hear this young man who preached so fervently. The building was retro-fitted to hold 1,500 but in less than a year that was too small. The decision was made to build a new chapel that would seat 5,000 and have standing room for an additional 1,000. It would be called The Metropolitan Tabernacle. In the days before mega-churches the Metropolitan Tabernacle was a strange sight. “The lad from Cambridge” found himself pastor of the largest church in the world. During Spurgeon’s ministry there, 14,691 people were added to the role, almost 11,000 of which were by conversion and baptism. Thousands of copies of his sermons were mailed out all over the world each week. What an enormous burden for a young pastor to bear. What a temptation toward self-aggrandizement. But Spurgeon maintained a healthy distrust of numeric success. He saw it very much as the exception rather than the rule. In 1887 he wrote, “Long ago I ceased to count heads, truth is usually in the minority in this evil world.”
Spurgeon’s commitment to the truth was bred within him early on. His father and grand-father were both Congregationalist preachers. When he was only a child, Spurgeon discovered a substantial collection of Puritan writings in the home of his grandfather. The wedding of spiritual fervor and doctrinal clarity championed by the Puritans would mark Spurgeon for the rest of his life. It would fire his preaching and serve as a bulwark through times of sickness, defeat, and controversy. During his life, Spurgeon was often criticized by Arminians and newspaper editorialists because of his high doctrine of God’s sovereignty. On the other hand, he was criticized by “hyper-Calvinists” for his passion for evangelism. Finally, he was criticized and officially censured by the Baptist Union for his stand in what became known as “The Down-Grade Controversy.”
The controversy was sparked by two articles that ran in The Metropolitan Tabernacle’s newsletter, The Sword and the Trowel, called “The Down-Grade”. Spurgeon whole-heartedly endorsed the articles which warned of the downward slide of England’s churches and placed the blame at the feet of preachers and churches that no longer held firmly to the truth. Pastors, who though orthodox themselves, were no longer contending for the truth and in many cases even shared their pulpits with men who outright denied fundamental tenets of biblical Christianity. As evidence of these errors mounted Spurgeon became more outspoken. To those who thought him too stringent Spurgeon wrote, “A little plain speaking would do a world of good right now. These gentlemen desire to be let alone. They want no noise raised…It is time that somebody should spring his rattle, and call attention to the way in which God is being robbed of His glory, and man of his hope.” He went on to call Christians to consider breaking fellowship with those who profess faith in Christ but deny Gospel essentials. “Numbers of easy-minded people wink at error so long as it is committed by a clever man and a good-natured brother, who has so many fine points about him…Under colour of begging friendship of the servant, there are those about who aim at robbing the Master.”
Spurgeon refused to tone down his rhetoric even though many of his brethren pleaded for him to do so. Certainly, he took no pleasure in his difficult duty. “It is no joy to us to bring accusations; it is no pleasure to our heart to seem to be in antagonism with so many.” During this time, Spurgeon’s health problems escalated. Kidney problems and gout caused him severe, debilitating pain. Through it all Spurgeon did not back down in sounding the alarm that the evangelical faith was under serious assault from within. He saw no reason why the Baptist Union should seek to accommodate those pastors who denied essential Christian doctrines such as the authority of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, and the doctrine of hell. “To be very plain, we are unable to call these things Christian Unions, they begin to look like Confederacies in Evil.” On January 13, 1888 Spurgeon met with leadership of the Baptist Union and urged them to adopt an evangelical statement of faith. They refused. In response, he submitted a letter withdrawing from the Union. In the end, the leadership of the Baptist Union, unwilling to stand clearly for truth, accepted his withdrawal and then censured Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Spurgeon hated division. But his conscience was captive to the Word of God and would not permit him to align with anyone who denied what God’s Word made plain. “Nothing has ever more largely promoted the union of the true than the break with the false.” The Down-Grade Controversy broke Spurgeon’s heart and is thought by many to have hastened his death which came on January 31, 1892.
Spurgeon’s funeral was attended by thousands who came to mourn the passing of this contender for truth and winner of souls. The Reverend Archibald Brown spoke these words at the graveside:
“Champion of God thy battle, long and nobly fought, is over; the sword which clave to thy hand, has dropped at last; a palm branch take its place. No longer does the helmet press thy brow, oft weary with its surging thoughts of battle; a victor’s wreath from the great Commander’s hand has already proved thy full reward.
“Here for a little while shall rest thy precious dust. Then shall thy Well-Beloved come; and at His voice thou shalt spring from thy couch of earth, fashioned like unto His body, into glory. Then, spirit, soul, and body shall magnify thy Lord’s redemption. Until then beloved, sleep. We praise God for thee, and by the blood of everlasting covenant, hope and expect to praise God with thee. Amen.”
Books by and about C.H. Spurgeon:
Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore – a great place to begin
The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray – My favorite work on Spurgeon
Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism by Iain Murray - A great follow-up by Murray
Lectures To My Students by C.H. Spurgeon – a must for ministers
Morning & Evening by C.H. Spurgeon – daily devotions
Whether it comes from the market-driven, consumerist prophets of the church growth movement or the advocates of post-modern deconstructionist philosophy the disdain for biblical clarity will be the same: a corrupt and impotent church. The church marketers prefer “happy-clappy” celebrations and self-help “talks” over weighty God-centered worship and biblical exposition. The postmodernists indulge in doctrinal flights of fancy which have led them to deny the innerancy and authority of God’s Word, the objective nature of truth, and even the substitutionary atonement of our Lord. They prefer questions to answers and ambiguity over certainty. Both of these strands continue to flourish in the evangelical church. Whether it is our desire to be large and powerful or our misguided notions of what it means to be “relevant” the results have been devastating: a biblically illiterate church unable to identify clear departures from God’s truth.
I see three conditions that have helped these troubling developments to flourish. First, anti-intellectualism, which has deep roots in American evangelicalism, has led to an unfortunate disdain for formal theological training. While probably not as bad as it used to be there are still preachers who brag about their lack of education in the Scriptures. While God has and does bless His church through countless individuals who have not received formal training, there is little excuse for those called to the full-time ministry of the Word to not be seminary educated. Many of the aberrations of the prosperity gospel, for instance, are the result of ignorance as to what the Bible actually teaches. I cannot help but wonder how many of today’s well known false teachers would be orthodox had they just invested the time to receive formal training in the Scriptures from godly scholars.
A second reason for the proliferation of error is our infatuation with egalitarianism which holds that all opinions carry equal merit. Today, it borders on sacrilege to suggest that someone’s long-held and cherished opinions about God or the Bible are actually wrong. We live in the “How do you feel about this verse?” or “What does this verse mean to you?” approach to Bible study. A willingness to gladly submit to what God has clearly spoken has given way to explorations about what we feel or think about what God has spoken. More times than I care to recount I have heard professing Christians say “I know the Bible says such-and-such but I believe this…”
A third reason behind many of the errors that prevail within the church is the tragic absence of expositional preaching. Few churches will openly admit that they have an aversion to the preaching of God’s Word but the truth is, a great deal of humanistic therapy, political activism, and moralistic legalism parades as biblical preaching. “After all,” the preacher may reason, “I used a lot of Bible verses.” Expositional preaching is the great cure for these problems. Simply put, expositional or expository preaching is preaching that takes the point of the biblical text to be the point of the sermon. It is preaching that says what the text says and intends what the text intends. It also protects the preacher from the temptation to advance personal agendas. Faithful biblical exposition not only teaches the content of God’s Word it develops within the church a great respect for the Scriptures and teaches by example the necessary skills of biblical interpretation. This kind of preaching is every pastor’s responsibility before God. In speaking his tender farewell to the Ephesian elders Paul said, “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 20:26-27).
Just as pastors are called by God to preach the Bible faithfully, so the church is called to devote itself to the eager reception of biblical preaching and teaching. When the church was birthed in Jerusalem at Pentecost we are told first that they “devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching” (Acts 2:42). Before their serving, their fellowship, their giving, and their evangelizing they shared a common commitment to the Word of God spoken through the apostles. We have that same teaching in the form of the New Testament. During Paul’s ministry he praised the believers at Thessalonica because, “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (I Thess. 2:13).
We must gladly affirm the great Protestant cry of Sola Scriptura or “Scripture Alone”. Indeed, in past centuries men were hounded by church authorities, tried as heretics, and even burned at the stake for their insistence that the authority of Scripture trumps all other authorities including that of popes and councils. In addition to authority Sola Scriptura speaks to the Bible’s sufficiency. The Bible gives us all we need for our doctrine, preaching, godliness, and spiritual experience. A faith without the Bible at the center worships a god of our own imaginations or sentiments rather than the God who reveals Himself. The Bible reminds us that what we believe, how we worship, how we “do church,” and how we live are not matters left to our own determination.
A Newsweek article from the mid 1980’s describes well the church in our day: “They have developed a ‘pick and choose’ Christianity in which individuals take what they want…and pass over what does not fit their spiritual goals.” What is more, it seems that the most successful practitioners of the “pick and choose” religion are those within the evangelical camp. Commenting on this phenomenon George Lindbeck of Yale University has written, “Playing fast and loose with the Bible needed a liberal audience in the days of Norman Vincent Peale, but now, as the case of Robert Schuller indicates, professed conservatives eat it up” (Postmodern Theology, 45). I could add to that list a number of very prominent “evangelical” preachers who use the Bible as a kind of garnish to their preaching rather than the foundation.
The church must insist that her preachers give them the Word of God. How can those tasked to preach the Scriptures do any less? How can churches be satisfied with sugary snacks when God has set before us such a bountiful and satisfying feast? The Puritans often referred to the Bible as a “cordial”, indicating that Scripture does for the soul what a Jacuzzi does for the body or fine chocolate does for the taste buds. As the Psalmist declared, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me…I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps 119:97ff).
If you want to know what having a baby is like, you could ask any mother…or any faithful Pastor. And before I’m clobbered for even daring to suggest a comparison, my authority is the apostle Paul, who wrote to the Galatians: “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…” (Gal. 4:19).
Paul had been the spiritual mother of the Galatians (Acts 13, 14). God had used him to turn the Galatians from “ceremony-salvation” to Gospel salvation, a painful and traumatic experience which he likened to having a baby. But just when Paul thought that the Galatians had been delivered from the suffocating womb of ritualism and were now breathing the pure life-giving oxygen of Christ’s grace, he discovers to his horror that they are reversing back up the birth canal, and turning back to circumcision and other ceremonies as a way of salvation.
So Paul re-enters the labor suite and starts pushing them back to grace. In between the agonizing pangs, he can be heard whispering, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth until Christ be formed in you.” There are piercing contractions, baffling complications, stubborn obstructions, and constant resistance. But he won’t give up or give in until he sees Christ formed in them. He’s going to push and persevere and fight for their lives until they take the shape of Christ, until their whole being proclaims Christ, until they look like Christ, sound like Christ and live like Christ. As John Calvin said, “If ministers wish to do any good, let them labor to form Christ, not to form themselves, in their hearers.”
Is it any wonder, pastors, that you feel so exhausted this Monday morning? You’ve been in the labor suite again. Indeed, do you ever leave it?
How should the Bible be understood?
Martin Luther warned us not to destroy something good simply because it is abused. He said that some people worship the sun and moon, but we don’t “pull the sun and stars from the skies;” some people visit prostitutes, but we don’t “kill all the women;” and some people get drunk, but we don’t “pour out all the wine” (actually some of us Baptists do that one, but you get the point).
Destroying the good thing that is abused is precisely the mistake Brian makes on question two. He recklessly alleges that this list of atrocities—“slavery, anti-Semitism, colonialism, genocide, chauvinism, homophobia, environmental plunder, the Inquisition, witch burning, apartheid” was committed because Christians thought their authoritative Bible was telling them to do so. To the extent that this is true (e.g., slavery in America), the obvious solution is a more careful reading of Scripture. But Brian doesn’t consider this option. Instead, he asserts that the only way to stop such crimes against humanity is to stop reading the Bible as our constitution.
Brian smuggles two disparate terms into his definition of constitution, effectively confusing the issue for many readers.
1. He says that we misuse the Bible as a constitution when we read the Bible as a legal document without appropriate attention to genre. Paying attention to genre is simply good hermeneutics, and no one would disagree with him here. But that doesn’t prevent Brian from caricaturing the other side, asserting that reading the Bible as a constitution demands that we naively consider the speeches of Job’s misguided friends to be as much the Word of God as what God himself says in the book. If the Bible is a legal document, then every word in it—even the speeches of Satan—is equally what God wants us to believe. Brian says that “there isn’t an easy way out of this problem.” Actually there is. It’s called hermeneutics, and every seminary teaches it.
2. Perhaps Brian spends so much time on his hermeneutical red herring so his readers will not notice when he smuggles in what he’s really against. Brian says that we also treat the Bible as our constitution when we stand under it as our authority. Brian knows that this point will offend many of his readers, but if he can persuade us that reading the Bible as our authority also commits us to naively reading the Bible without attention to genre, then he may be able to convince many that the Bible is not our constitution.
The key to not being swept away by this sleight of hand is to realize that (1) and (2) are mutually exclusive. It’s easy to stand under the Bible as our authority (2) and still read biblical poetry differently than Paul’s epistles (1). All of us do it all of the time. Brian surely knows this, so I can only conclude that either he is being extraordinarily sloppy here or he is trying to trick us into rejecting the Bible as our authority.
After caricaturing the Bible as constitution, Brian goes on to give his solution: we must treat the Bible as a cultural library for Christians. Just as a library presents competing perspectives on perennial questions, so the books of the Bible present different answers to the big questions of life. We should not expect our Bible to be internally consistent, but should take its messy conversation as our cue to join its great debates. Even God, when he appears in the biblical text, does not give the final answer on anything, for doing so would oppressively “shut down any conversation.” Instead, the “God character” in the book of Job is “not the real God” but merely “a representation,” an “imagined God, the author’s best sense of God, the fictional character playing God for the sake of this dramatic work of art.”
Brian realizes that his view may open the door to moral relativism. He reassures us that it doesn’t, but he doesn’t even attempt to explain how. Indeed, I suspect that Brian’s reading of the Bible opens the door more widely to moral atrocities than the constitution view he blames. Which person is more likely to abuse the Bible to commit violence on others—someone who believes that the Bible is God’s Word which he must obey or someone who thinks that the Bible is a library where one can pick and choose which answers he likes and which ones he doesn’t? How exactly would Brian convince Hitler that God says genocide is wrong? Couldn’t Hitler respond that he was more into another book in the cultural library, thank you very much? Yes, I just played the Hitler card (this is a blog after all), but note that the card was dealt by Brian when he said that my view led people to commit genocide.
Brian’s naiveté or duplicity (it’s hard to tell which) is on display when he accuses people like me of being the “religious thought police” who defend our views because our jobs and reputations are at stake. I confess that I am a sinner whose motives are never entirely pure, but does Brian really think that he does not stand in danger of the very same thing? He has made a very nice living from his “new kind of Christianity,” and he stands to lose much if evangelical Christians conclude that his “third way” forward is actually a fast track back to liberalism.
It would be nice if Brian felt confident enough in his views to discuss their merits without resorting to ad hominem attacks. Writing that we may “politely notify the thought police that we don’t fear them anymore” may score points with some readers, but its “us vs. them” mentality simply poisons the conversation. Even his fictional God thinks he can do better.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Kate Gosselin has a new book, "I Just Want You to Know," scheduled for release in April.
Christian book publisher Zondervan said Tuesday the book features excerpts, prayers and memories from Gosselin's journal, offering readers a look at her life during the three years her family went from obscurity to fame on TLC's "Jon & Kate Plus 8."
Zondervan says the book includes eight individual letters, one addressed to each one of her children, covering a variety of topics.
"Jon & Kate Plus 8" filmed the lives of the Gosselins and their eight children — twins and sextuplets — at their home in Wernersville, Pa. Their marriage dissolved, and the show ended last year.
The Master's Seminary is currently in a series on sanctification in their chapel services. Take time to listen.
Sanctification and Justification: The Relationship - Andrew Snider
Sanctification: The Biblical Basis - Richard Mayhue
Thursday, February 11, 2010
From a review by Anthony Selvaggio:
This volume should be in every pastor's library. If you are preaching on John's Gospel, or intend to preach on it in the future, this volume should be on your desk and read alongside Kostenberger's or D.A. Carson's commentary on John. This book will act as a necessary biblical-theological supplement to your exegetical work. The book will also serve as a fine textbook for a course on John's theology in seminary or college. I highly recommend purchasing this volume. Thus far, it is Kostenberger's magnum opus on the topic of John's theology.