Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I wrapped up the series God's Great Story with part 15 - "The Triumphant God." You can listen to or download the sermon HERE.

What do we need to learn from the Crystal Cathedral?

As many of you know Robert Schuller's famous Crystal Cathedral filed for bankruptcy last year. Now a developer is purchasing the campus for the purpose of building apartments on the site.

Check out the story HERE.

I can't help but wonder what we need to learn from this. Is it just an unfortunate and embarrassing story? Is it simply a sign of our current economic times? Or, does the Cathedral debacle tell us something about the fate of the modern mega-church? Is it a morality tale on the impotency of Schuller's feel-good messages that proclaimed the power of positive thinking rather than holding forth the Gospel?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

Yes, we still must contend for the gospel within the church...

"Although known as gospel people, evangelicals no longer share any consensus on the gospel's meaning."

- Carl Trueman from The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

John Piper Interviews Rick Warren

Check out Piper's introductory comments HERE.

Topic index of the interview:
0:00 Introduction
3:29 The glory of God.
7:16 David Wells and the weight of God’s reality.
9:00 Would you write the book the same today?
12:00 The sovereignty of God.
18:47 How do you speak of God’s sovereignty in the presence of tragedy?
22:01 How do all things work for bad for those who reject Christ?
24:14 Do you hedge on Larry King?
27:00 Unconditional election.
30:18 The importance of eternity.
34:42 How do you conceive of eternity: in heaven, on earth?
38:53 What is the Gospel?
42:00 What did Jesus achieve on the cross?
43:40 Repentance.
50:50 Why don’t you call yourself a Calvinist?
53:09 Propitiation.
54:39 Prevenient grace.
1:00:01 Total depravity.
1:03:00 Hell.
1:09:10 Eternal destiny of those who never heard.
1:12:40 The extent of the atonement.
1:17:00 Do unbelievers always do the devil’s bidding?
1:18:40 Your view of the Bible.
1:22:40 Expository preaching and doctrinal depth.
1:28:10 Rick Warren’s sacred trust.

HT: Denny Burk

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Real Scandal...

I highly recommend Carl Trueman's excellent (and brief) ebook The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

If you are a pastor, ministry leader, or elder in a non-denominational church Trueman's book will be especially important for you to read.

The Weapons of Our Warfare

Scott Oliphint's excellent book on apologetics is now available for $5 at WTSbooks. Too often Christians rely on worldly weapons to wage spiritual warfare.

Publisher's Description:

Hoping "to get us to open our Bibles again when we think about apologetics," K. Scott Oliphint probes six Scripture texts on the subject. He summarizes their message as follows:

"Since Christ is Lord, and the battle is his, we are always ready to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We are to use the weapons, not of this world, but of the Lord. We are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ as we demolish the arguments, with gentleness and reverence, of those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, exchanging the truth of God for a lie, worshipping created things, rather than the Creator…"
"Most of us who want to be faithful witnesses know we need—but often lack—three things: a clear understanding of the truth, the ability to express our message persuasively, and confidence that the gospel has nothing to fear in the intellectual market place. As a skilled seminary professor who has also served in the trenches of pastoral and evangelistic ministry, Dr. Oliphint is well qualified to give us just the help we need."
- Sinclair B. Ferguson, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary

On becoming a statistic...

The Schaeffer Institute has recently released the troubling statistics of a research project among pastors.

Thabiti comments on these findings in a very helpful and sobering post:

This past Lord's Day, I had the privilege of preaching 1 Timothy 5:17-20. "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,' and 'The worker deserves his wages.' Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning."

It was an honor to preach this passage to a congregation that has been full of love, support, and encouragement to me and my family these past five years. There was great liberty in unfolding text without fear of being misunderstood, without need of rebuking the people, and withut having to fight against an impulse to complain or to pander because we've been treated with "double honor" since arriving. What a blessing!

But if I am to believe some of the survey statistics published on pastors and their view towards the ministry, the vast majority of my fellow pastors do not feel this way and are not receiving proper care from their people. Consider these figures compiled by the Schaeffer Institute:

Hours and Pay
•90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
•50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
•70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.

Training and Preparedness
•90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands.
•90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they
thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.

Health and Well-Being
•70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
•50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

Marriage and Family
•80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
•80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked.
•80% spouses feel left out and under-appreciated by church members.

Church Relationships
•70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
•40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.

•#1 reason pastors leave the ministry — Church people are not willing to go the same direction and goal of the pastor. Pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction but the people are not willing to follow or change.

•50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
•1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
•4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.
•Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
•Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.
•Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year.

That’s a sad and alarming picture, isn’t it? Work long hours in a job with too many demands for too little pay. Many have the wrong skills and the wrong expectations. Families being pressured and battered. Pastors are discouraged and depressed. No friends, serious conflict once a month, and people who will not follow. Is it no wonder so many quit so soon?

According to one survey, only 23% of pastors report being happy and content in their identity in Christ, in their church, and in their home.

I suspect, however, that men in these situations might be crippled all the more were they to faithfully preach a text like 1 Tim. 5:17-20. They would be seen as self-serving and courting with more hostility and dissatisfaction from a people already running afoul of God's call to churches to honor faithful servants.

So, I'm hopeful at least some of God's people would consider these statistics, reflect upon their church's treatment of their pastors, and perhaps lead a conspiracy to make sure faithful elders receive "double honor" from those they teach and lead. Let's face it: we can't get survey statistics like these unless it has become an unchecked commonplace among congregations to gossip and gripe rather than to breathe grace toward church leaders. These statistics indicate a pandemic culture of disregard and dishonor aimed at pastors. That's to the church's shame.

I'm praying that Hebrews 13:17--rather than rejected as giving too much authority to leaders--might be embraced by individual members and congregations as one means to growth in Christ and deeper joy as the family of God. "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Straight from the false prophet's mouth...

"I'm not a genius."

- Harold Camping

You can read the entire article HERE.

In case you were wondering, "the world will be destroyed" on October 21, 2011. I hate that because Autumn is my favorite time of year.

N.T. Wright attacks another straw man...

It seems that the former Bishop of Durham has been living under a proverbial rock. He just cannot seem to find anyone but those silly Americans who cares about questions of Hell and judgment. It seems that the Rev. Wright travels in fairly parochial circles. When asked recently about Hell, Wright answered:

My usual counter question is: “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?” Far more Americans ask me about hell than ever happens in my own country. And I really want to know, why is it that the most prosperous affluent nation on earth is really determined to be sure that they know precisely who is going to be frying in hell and what the temperature will be and so on. There’s something quite disturbing about that, especially when your nation and mine has done quite a lot in the last decade or two to drop bombs on people elsewhere and to make a lot of other people’s lives hell. So, I think there are some quite serious issues about why people want to ask that question.
Thankfully, Trevin Wax, an appreciator of Wright, has responded helpfully.

Wright asks “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?” in order to consider the context of the question. He implies that Americans may be asking this question because of deep-seated feelings of guilt for our economic prosperity or our nation’s foreign policy. I’m afraid this simply won’t work as an explanation. The U.K. was just as invested in the Middle Eastern conflicts as the U.S., and yet he claims he is rarely asked about hell in England.

Furthermore, the idea that only Americans are asking about hell seems reductionist. When I lived overseas, I discovered Romanians to be very interested in future judgment. Visit Eastern Europe, Africa, China, and other parts of the world where there is a strong evangelical presence and you will find people grappling with these issues. The fact that few in the UK ask Wright about hell says more about the paucity of evangelical witness in England than it does any lopsided obsession with hell in the States.

Frankly, there are other, better reasons behind the recent dustup over hell. We’re coming out of a decade or two in which some of the sharp edges of Christian doctrine have been blunted and softened. Much of American preaching has centered on practical ways to better one’s present life. Newer gospel presentations sidestep the question of hell altogether and focus instead on God’s calling us to join him in the mission life for this world now. We’ve been told that people aren’t that concerned about the life of the age to come (this, despite the number of books about heaven and hell that linger around the summit of the New York Times bestseller list).
Read the entire response HERE.

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached part 14 of our series God's Great Story. It is entitled "The Judging God" and can be listened to or downloaded HERE.

Alistair Begg on Christ's Second Coming...

Check out the audio HERE.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reading up on the End Times

With the well known errors of Harold Camping fresh on our minds it may be helpful to read up on what reliable biblical scholars have written about the end times.

Here are some excellent titles for you to check out:

The Bible and the Future by Anthony Hoekema

Christ and the Future by Cornelis Venema

A Case for Amillennialism by Kim Riddlebarger

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It is past 6:00 in Australia

Harold Camping claimed that the Bible "guarantees" that Christ would rapture his people this day by 6:00 pm (beginning at the International Date Line). He claimed that the surface of the earth would be littered by the bones and other remains of the dead as all the graves on the planet would be emptied of their remains. Mass chaos would ensue. Well, Australia, Asia, and Europe have already sped past 6:00 pm May 21.

That it did not happen is no surprise to those who read the Bible responsibly. Camping, an engineer, treats the Bible as a mathematical equation to be solved. For two thousand years of church history the time of Christ's return remained locked away in mystery until Camping put the pieces together. It is sad that Camping has so deluded himself. It is sadder still that many others have willingly been misled.

Now we are left to pick up the pieces. Camping will go on (although, considering his age...). He will almost surely not repent. He will more than likely reveal one small detail that he failed to calculate. But what do we say to the mockers who will now see anyone who claims the name of Jesus, reveres the Word of God, and believes in the sure return of Christ as a Camping-like crackpot?

Let us remember that the Scriptures promise that Christ will return for his church. And it is a grievous mockery to deny this. 2 Peter 3:3-4 says:

Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”
One thing that characterizes the godless is a denial of Christ's return and the coming judgment. It is tragic that Harold Camping and his willing followers have now added fuel to the mocker's fire. They have given the godless one more reason not to believe.

Make no mistake. Harold Camping is a false prophet and his reward will be that of the false prophet. The responsibility of God's people is to confront men like Camping and their lies. It is not enough to be nice. It is not enough to cling to mere Christianity. We must actively confront error. We must be willing to be called harsh if that is what it takes to identify falsehood. Our neighbors deserve our best efforts to make both the truth and errors clear.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Just in case we're left behind...

Well tomorrow is the big day.

I was listening to a "Camping-ite" today on a national radio program. At the end of the interview I noticed that my face hurt from being in a constant cringe for almost 45 minutes. The man was a deeply sincere fellow and quite articulate. Unfortunately he has given himself to a system of biblical interpretation which has a little too much in common with pagan numerology. He would balk at this description of course. But Camping and his followers have devised a method of interpreting the Bible which is exotic to say the least. Among their beliefs is that all churches are under the dominion of Satan, and that since May 21, 1988.

This poor man on the radio claimed that there is not one scintilla of doubt that May 21st will be the day that Jesus raptures His church. Camping and his followers also specify that it will occur at 6:00 pm (measuring from the International Date Line - and, no, I'm not kidding!). He said that through television and the internet we will be able to view graves being emptied in Australia and on through Africa, Asia, and Europe as 6:00 approaches Eastern Standard Time.

All of this, the man said, is "guaranteed" by the Bible. He continued to speak of the "hundreds of Bible verses" which make Christ's return on May 21st undeniable. The only way to deny it, he reasoned, was to say that the Bible is wrong. This, of course, is very dangerous. The Camping-ites give this date the same certainty as the deity and resurrection of Jesus. So, if Jesus does not return tomorrow the only option is that the Bible is nothing but a fable for what it promises is false.

So, what if it doesn't happen? What if Jesus does not rapture his church tomorrow? The Camping-ites refuse to answer the question because, they say, it is an impossibility. "How am I supposed to respond to an impossibility?" So it will be interesting to see how they respond at 12:01 am on May 22. Hopefully they will repent. But barring repentance, then they ought to be consistent and reject the Bible and the Christian faith for erring so egregiously.

Now, I could write something about some of the dangers inherent in dispensationalism. Perhaps another time...

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached part 13 in the series God's Great Story. It is entitled "The Transforming God" and is focused on the New Testament epistles. You can listen to or download it HERE.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Coming Soon...

I'm looking forward to the following titles:

Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow by Carl Trueman

John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain Murray

Welcome to the Story by Stephen Nichols

"You are my pastor"

Thanks to Thom Rainer for this moving letter.

You are my pastor. You are not perfect. You get frustrated like everyone else. You don’t always say exactly what you should say. You do indeed make some mistakes. On that reality you readily agree.

But your imperfections are often magnified in the light of your leadership role. When you please one congregant, you often displease another. You can’t make everyone happy, and you hear criticisms more times than most of us could endure.
Read on...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Asking deeper questions...

Kevin DeYoung has posted a helpful article on how churches ought to evaluate themselves. He draws on a conversation he had with the pastor of a declining church. The pastor attributed his church's decline on the fact that their music and liturgy were historic rather than contemporary. But DeYoung, knowing that the church was theologically liberal pressed the pastor to consider that the reason for their decline was probably not due simply to the style of music.

DeYoung suggests a series of deeper questions that churches ought to be regularly asking:

Is the gospel faithful preached?
Is the Bible taught with clarity and passion?
Are the sermons manifestly rooted in a text of Scripture?
Do the elders/pastors and deacons meet the qualifications for church office laid out in the New Testament?
Are the sacraments faithfully administered and protected?
Is church discipline practiced?
Do the elders exercise personal care over the flock?
Are there good relationships among the staff and other leaders?
Is the worship service put together thoughtfully and carried out with undistracting excellence (as much as possible)?
Do the people in the congregation sing the songs with gusto or are they going through the motions?
Is a high bar set for church membership?
Are the people of the church engaged in personal ministry?
Is the congregation marked by increasing prayer and evangelism?
Do the pastors believe in the complete trustworthiness of all of Scripture?
Do they take adequate time for study and preparation?
Do they truly believe and eagerly rejoice in their church’s/denomination’sstatement of faith, creeds, and confessions?
Are their lives examples of personal holiness?

Monday, May 16, 2011

New book on Adam and Eve

I am eagerly awaiting the delivery of my copy of John Collins' new book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?

Dr. Collins is both a man of science (trained at MIT) and a Hebrew scholar. He teaches at Covenant Theological Seminary and has been
an important voice in the discussion about the relationship between faith and science.

I am thrilled that he has made the subject of the historicity of Adam and Eve the focus of his latest book.

Publisher's Description: Examines the biblical-theological evidence for a real Adam and Eve and asserts their importance for modern life.

"We need a real Adam and Eve if we are to make sense of the Bible and of life," argues C. John Collins. Examining the biblical storyline as the worldview story of the people of God, Collins shows how that story presupposes a real Adam and Eve and how the modern experience of human life points to the same conclusion.

Applying well-informed critical thinking to questions raised by theologians and scientists alike, Collins asserts that only a real man could participate in God's plan to use his human partners to bring blessing to the whole creation, a blessing that requires "redemption" for all people since sin entered the world.

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? addresses both biblical and Jewish texts and contains extensive appendices to examine how the material in Genesis relates to similar material from Mesopotamian myths. Collins's detailed analysis of the relevant texts will instill confidence in readers that the traditional Christian story equips them better than any alternatives to engage the life that they actually encounter in the modern world.

On the singularity of the incarnation...

Is it appropriate to apply the word "incarnation" to mere men? I have been uneasy for some time about the use of the term "incarnational" to our attempts to make Jesus known. I see no warrant from Scripture to apply this term to our evangelism or ministries of mercy.

John Starke over at the Gospel Coalition has written a helpful piece addressing the use of the term "incarnational." He points out two problems with using the term to describe the mission of the church and the ministry of individual Christians:
1. We lose the sense of the incarnation's relation to the doctrine of God.
2. It confuses the incarnation of Jesus as merely being humble or modeling a certain kind of engagement.

Starke sums up by reminding us that the language used to describe the doctrine of Christ is very precious.

If church history teaches us anything, it’s that we are never in the clear of the threat of heresy. Therefore, we should be careful with our language as it relates to the person of Christ. My fear is that when we center our doctrine of Christ’s incarnation on his mission and therefore something we can emulate, the doctrine of Christ’s two natures will become optional and consequentially easily abandoned. The last step may not yet be apparent, but if we assume the deity and humanity of Christ without making it central to his incarnation, then we are only one step away from losing it.

In an email referring to the work I was doing on this article, Hirsch encouraged me to “respect the doctrine itself as well as those who are seeking to be missionally inspired by the model Christ gave us.” I hope I’ve done that. The work many of these pastors and Christian workers are doing is commendable, and their ministries are bearing solid fruit in very difficult places. We should honor such men. But I want to honor the doctrine of the incarnation, as Hirsch encouraged me to do, as well as Christ himself in pressing for language that clearly represents his person and work. In doing so, I think we have good reason to avoid describing our ministries with the term incarnational.
Read the entire article HERE.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pitting Jesus Against Scripture

It is not a new tactic. Liberal theologians and denominations tend to separate Jesus (as they choose to understand him) from the rest of Scripture. And so if there is anything in Scripture which they believe is out of step with Jesus then they will dismiss that portion of Scripture.

Needless to say this tendency has been disastrous. It has led to the gutting of the Bible, the Gospel, and the missionary impulse. It also leads to sexual licence. Wherever there is theological liberalism the boundaries of biblical sexual ethics will be moved.

In a sad but unsurprising move, the Twin Cities Minnesota presbytery of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) has voted to ordain practicing homosexuals.

Al Mohler comments:

The Presbyterian Church (USA) now joins the Episcopal Church (US), the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in ordaining openly homosexual candidates to the ministry.

Both sides in this controversy understand the meaning of the decision. While this action deals specifically with ordination standards, it is really about the larger issue of homosexuality. Most observers expect that the decision to allow same-sex marriages will follow closely.

But even beyond the specific issue of homosexuality, the church faced two of the most fundamental questions of Christian theology — the authority of the Bible and the Lordship of Christ. In making this change, the church clearly affirms that one may submit to the Lordship of Christ without submitting to the clear teachings of Scripture.

That is a fundamental error that leaves this denomination now in the implausible position of claiming to affirm the Lordship of Christ while subverting the authority of Scripture. The removal of the constitutional language about marriage and chastity, coupled with the removal of the language about repentance from what Scripture identifies as sin, effectively means that candidates and presbyteries may defy Scripture while claiming to follow Christ.

Clearly, this action could not have happened without this denomination having abandoned any required belief in the full authority, inspiration, and truthfulness of the Bible long ago. This most recent decision sets the stage for the total capitulation of this church to the normalization of homosexuality — an act of open defiance against the Scriptures.

Read the entire article HERE.

Life of Jesus

I cannot more highly commend to you the work of John Dickson. A pastor and evangelist, Dr. Dickson is also a scholar of ancient history. He is also one of my favorite preachers. Simply put, if you see his name on it, get it.

One of his most recent project is a documentary on the life of Jesus which aired on Australian television. It is outstanding. Get it. Watch it as a family. Watch it in your small group or Sunday school class.

Life of Jesus (DVD)

Life of Jesus (book/study guide)

Not a prison but a parish...

HT: Trevin Wax

Discerning Harold Camping

Robert Godfrey, church historian and President of Westminster Seminary California has written a series of helpful articles shedding light on Harold Camping's history and strange approach to biblical interpretation.

"The End of the World According to Harold Camping"
•Part 1

•Part 2

•Part 3

•Part 4

•Part 5

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Basics 2011 and some great resources...

I have attended the Basics Conference for eight years. The reason I return every year is because it is always well worth attending. I must say that this year was exceptional. Along with Alister Begg the speakers were John Dickson and Rico Tice. If you are unfamiliar with either Dickson or Tice I strongly recommend you familiarize yourself with their ministries.

John Dickson is an evangelist, historian, and pastor from Australia. He is author of
numerous books and the founder of The Centre for Public Christianity.

Rico Tice is an associate minister at All Souls Langham Place (London) and is co-author of the outstanding
Christianity Explored.

Here are some of the things being said about
Christianity Explored:

“Christianity Explored offers a highly effective way to help unbelieving friends consider the claims of Christ for themselves, and to voice their comments and questions in a context of learning and discovery. An evangelistic study of Mark’s Gospel, it has energized and equipped many Christians to share their faith more effectively and comes with study materials that are attractive, succinct and to-the-point. It is sensitive to the objections, fears, and misapprehensions of unbelievers, showing respect and consideration for honest doubts and questions.”
- Alistair Begg, Senior Pastor, Parkside Church, Ohio

“What I welcome about the Christianity Explored course is that, in taking us through Mark’s Gospel, it emphasizes truths which are often neglected - like the gravity of sin, the centrality of the cross, the sufficiency of grace, and the necessity of repentance.”
- John Stott, Rector Emeritus, All Souls Church, London

"I wish every Church, every Sunday School Class, and every Small Group would use Christianity EXplored at least once a year. Then our churches might once again become what they were meant to be: God’s evangelistic society and network of spiritual maternity hospitals where we live in expectation that new Christians will be born.
- Sinclair Ferguson

Check out what Michael Horton writes about Christianity Expored HERE.

Monday, May 9, 2011

What I'm Up To...

I am attending the Basics Conference at Parkside Church this week. I have attended this conference every year, save 2010, for eight years. The content is always outstanding and the mood restful. Above are a few pictures of the village of Chagrin Falls. The red brick building is my favorite Starbucks on the planet. The windows provide a great view of the falls. I have also included a picture of what it typically looks like when I do sermon preparation.

Assassination, Justice, Secularism, and Moral Equivalency

Doug Wilson has a helpful post summing up his thoughts on the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.

To those who would question the justice of assissination from a biblical perspective, Wilson answers:

1. Assassination is not necessarily an ungodly tactic. Ehud was a righteous judge in Israel, and he was used by the Lord in the assassination of Eglon (Judg. 3:21). It is not to be condemned out of hand.

2. The biblical response to this kind of thing is not uniform. There is a sense in which we are to say that God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11), and that would include the death of this wicked man. Yet there is another sense (not contradictory, but in paradox), in which God delights to execute judgment in the earth. As believers, we do not privilege one over the other. We long for Him to judge the nations with equity (Ps. 98:9), and this means that some people are going down. Lest anyone say that this is an Old Testament mentality, I will just say that the only time in the New Testament when the saints say Hallelujah is when they are watching the smoke ascend from the ruins of Babylon. And so how do we reconcile this love of mercy and this longing for justice? To reapply a comment of Spurgeon's, we don't. There is no need to reconcile friends. God gave us two hands, and mercy goes in one and justice in the other, and we lift them both up to God. The judge of the whole earth will do right.
Secularism, Wilson maintains, leaves us unable to respond to Bin Laden's death in a satisfactory way:

3. In moments such as this, secularism leaves us bereft of any appropriate response. If there is no God above us, who trains our Seals for battle (Ps. 144:1), then we are left with two options, both of them bad. We are left without an appropriate vocabulary for our victories. Either we get a glorying in American military prowess, of the chest bumping variety, which is just obnoxious -- what Obama called spiking the football -- or we mistreat our warriors the way David did after the defeat of Absalom. But the only real alternative is to give glory to God. But that turns it into a religious war, and the secularists can't have that. So we are left with hubristic Americanism, or skulking home after the triumph. Gakk.
For those who seem unable to distinguish between the actions of terrorists and the United States Wilson writes:

7. As I have written before, we must not allow our awareness of our own sinfulness, and the fact that all of us die as a result of that sin, to flatten the distinctions between sins. There is such a thing as great evil, and to recognize the fact is not the equivalent of denying that you yourself have sinned. A man can say, with the old Puritan watching a man being taken off to be deservedly executed, "There but for the grace of God go I," without saying, "There am I, the grace of God notwithstanding." Christians should be the last people to allow the grace of God to be used as an instrument to blur moral distinctions. When Paul tells us that the magistrate does not bear the sword for nothing, but rather wields it to whack evildoers (Rom. 13:4), he does not hasten to add that the Roman cops are actually, theologically speaking, evildoers themselves and so should hasten to fall on their own swords. As I say, he does not say that.
Read the entire post HERE.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Pastor and Personal Criticism

No one like criticism. Even when the criticism is legitimate or at least partially legitimate the sting is very real. For pastors this is especially true because so much of our work depends on being liked. The reality is intensified because of the amount of criticism that many pastors receive.

In my case, God has been exceedingly gentle. He has caused me to serve as pastor to a very affirming congregation. What is more, the vast majority of the criticism that I do receive comes from brothers who I know care about me. But even when that is not the case I find that there is usually at least a kernel of truth that I need to hear and learn from.

Recently C.J. Mahaney completed a series of blog posts entitled "The Pastor and Personal Criticism." They are well worth the read.

1. The Pastor and Personal Criticism
2. The Pastor’s Temptations when Criticism Arrives
3. Learning Wisdom by Embracing Criticism
4. A Kind and Painful Bruising
5. The Pastor’s Wife and Her Role When Criticism Arrives
6. Adding a Few Smudges to My Moral Portrait
7. Deal Gently with Your Critics
8. Why Faithful Pastors Will Be Criticized
9. Too High an Estimation
10. Distinguishing Criticism
11. How to Criticize Your Pastor (And Honor God)

The value of a flawed and struggling pastor...

From John Newton:

Give me leave to ask pastors: What would you do if you did not find yourself occasionally poor, insufficient, and stupid?

Are you aware of what might be the possible, the probable, the almost certain consequences, if you always found your spirit enlarged, and your frames lively and comfortable?

Would you not be in great danger of being puffed up with spiritual pride?

Would you not be less sensible of your absolute dependence upon the power of Christ, and of your continual need of his blood, pardon, and intercession?

Would you not be quite at a loss to speak suitably and feelingly to the case of many gracious souls, who are groaning under those effects of a depraved nature, from which, upon that supposition, you would be exempted?

How could you speak properly upon the deceitfulness of the heart, if you did not feel the deceitfulness of your own; or adapt yourself to the changing experiences through which your hearers pass, if you yourself were always alike, or nearly so?

Or how could you speak pertinently of the inward warfare, the contrary principles of flesh and spirit fighting one against another, if your own spiritual desires were always vigorous and successful, and met with little opposition or control?

The angel who appeared to Cornelius did not preach the Gospel to him, but directed him to send for Peter: for though the glory and grace of the Saviour seems a fitter subject for an angel’s powers than for the poor stammering tongues of sinful men, yet an angel could not preach experimentally, nor describe the warfare between grace and sin from his own feelings (Acts 10:1–8).

And if we could suppose a minister as full of comforts and as free from failings as an angel, though he would be a good and happy man, I cannot conceive that he would be a good or useful preacher; for he would not know how to sympathize with the weak and afflicted of the flock, or to comfort them under their difficulties with the consolations wherewith he himself, in similar circumstances, had been comforted of God.
HT: C.J. Mahaney

Embracing Destruction

"When a church forfeits its doctrinal convictions and then embraces ambiguity and tolerates heresy, it undermines its own credibility and embraces its own destruction."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Thorough Response to "Love Wins"

Michael Wittmer is a guy I trust. His book Don't Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough is well worth reading. He also posted a series of effective responses to Brian MacLaren's tragic book A New Kind of Christianity.

Now Wittmer has released a full response to Rob Bell's Love Wins. It is entitled Christ Alone.

Check out the review by Trevin Wax HERE.

Abusing Matthew 18...

And the abuses abound!

Don Carson has written a helpful article for
the latest issue of Themelios.

Carson writes:

Several years ago I wrote a fairly restrained critique of the emerging church movement as it then existed, before it morphed into its present diverse configurations.1 That little book earned me some of the angriest, bitterness-laced emails I have ever received—to say nothing, of course, of the blog posts. There were other responses, of course—some approving and grateful, some thoughtful and wanting to dialogue. But the ones that displayed the greatest intensity were those whose indignation was white hot because I had not first approached privately those whose positions I had criticized in the book. What a hypocrite I was—criticizing my brothers on ostensible biblical grounds when I myself was not following the Bible’s mandate to observe a certain procedure nicely laid out in Matt 18:15–17.

Doubtless this sort of charge is becoming more common. It is regularly linked to the “Gotcha!” mentality that many bloggers and their respondents seem to foster. Person A writes a book criticizing some element or other of historic Christian confessionalism. A few bloggers respond with more heat than light. Person B writes a blog with some substance, responding to Person A. The blogosphere lights up with attacks on Person B, many of them asking Person B rather accusingly, “Did you communicate with Person A in private first? If not, aren’t you guilty of violating what Jesus taught us in Matthew 18?” This pattern of counter-attack, with minor variations, is flourishing.

To which at least three things must be said:

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Osama Round-up

The following are the posts/articles that I found most helpful in considering how Christians can think biblically about the death of Osama Bin Laden:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Should you join a church?

The short answer is "Yes!"

Take time to check out the latest 9Marks ejournal. The theme this month is church membership. Is it biblical? What does membership mean? What are the costs of meaningless membership?

Is Church Membership Biblical by Matt Chandler

Joining a Church the Ancient Way by Michael Haykin

Church Membership and Contextualization by Ed Roberts

Meaningless Membership by Al Jackson

Twelve Reasons Why Membership Matters by Jonathan Leeman

Check out the entire issue HERE.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Submitting both our hopes and imaginations to Scripture

Obviously, universalism has been getting quite a lot of attention lately. This is largely a good thing. It is why some orthodox theologians speak about our "debt to heresy." Heresy tends to rally the orthodox. It prompts the faithful to reexamine their doctrine and recover neglected points of truth. Rob Bell has unintentionally spurred on a wealth of fresh material on the doctrines of Hell, Heaven, the final judgment, and the eternal state.

In a recent article, James K. A. Smith responds to the new universalists. In particular Dr. Smith challenges those who dismiss the doctrine of Hell because they "can't imagine it" and those who "hope" it isn't true.

1) The "I-can't-imagine" strategy is fundamentally Feuerbachian: it is a hermeneutic of projection which begins from what I can conceive and then projects "upwards," as it were, to a conception of God. While this "imagining" might have absorbed some biblical themes of love and mercy, this absorption seems selective. More importantly, the "I-can't-imagine" argument seems inattentive to how much my imagination is shaped and limited by all kinds of cultural factors and sensibilities--including how I "imagine" the nature of love, etc. The "I-can't-imagine" argument makes man the measure of God, or at least seems to let the limits and constraints of "my" imagination trump the authority of Scripture and interpretation. I take it that discipleship means submitting even my imagination to the discipline of Scripture. (Indeed, could anything be more countercultural right now than Jonathan Edwards' radical theocentrism, with all its attendant scandals for our modern sensibilities?)

2) The "at-least-I-hope" strategy might seem less problematic. Doesn't it just name what all of us secretly desire? Indeed, wouldn't we be quite inhuman if we didn't hope in this way? (Then you get Winner's obnoxious suggestion that any of those who continue to affirm divine judgment are really trying to "guard heaven's gate," taking a certain delight in exclusion, as if they saw heaven as a country club. I won't dignify that with a response.)

But whence this hope? Can our hopes ever be wrong? Let's try an analogous example: I love my wife dearly. She is the best thing that ever happened to me, and our marriage has been an incredible means of grace in my life. I can't imagine life without her; indeed, I don't want to imagine life without her. And I want to hope that we will share this intimacy as a husband and wife forever.

But then I run into this claim from Jesus: "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven" (Matt. 22:30). Should I nonetheless hope that marriage endures in eternity? Should I profess that I can't know this (since Scripture seems to suggest otherwise), but nonetheless claim that somehow hoping it might be true is still faithful? Or should I submit even my hopes to discipline by the authority of Scripture?
Read the entire article HERE.

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached part 12 in our current series: God's Great Story. It is entitled "The Nation Building God" and deals with the birth of the church. You can listen to or download the sermon HERE.

Thnking about Osama...

Christians are offering up various opinions on the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Some are rejoicing as they point to such texts as Romans 13:3-4. Others are appealing to such texts as Ezekiel 33:11 to mourn his death. Are these contradictory positions? How do we rightly rejoice in the justice brought about by God's use of civil government and at the same time mourn over the death of even the wicked?

Denny Burk has posted some helpful thoughts:

1. Romans 13:4, “It does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” If ever there were a just use of force, this was it. The U.S. government carried out its God-ordained task and has acted as the minister of God bringing His wrath upon one who practiced evil. The U.S. government isn’t God’s only minister of the sword. But tonight was our night, and I am grateful that justice was served.

2. Hebrews 10:31, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Isaiah 33:14, “Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with continual burning?” I shudder to think of what Bin Laden is facing right now. I do not question the justice of it, but I can hardly bear to contemplate the horror of it. If my thinking is defective now, it won’t always be. The day will come when God will command me to rejoice in His justice in the damanation of the wicked (Revelation 18:20). Until then, the horror should serve as a motivation to warn people to flee the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

3. I think Christians are right to contemplate how jubilation (like we see on TV right now) is consistent with Ezekiel 33:11, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” So I can understand why Christians may be asking, “If God is not delighting in the death of the wicked, then how can we?” I think there is confusion on this point because this verse is easily misunderstood. The second part of the verse is key to understanding its meaning. The text is not trying to say that God never delights in the death of the wicked. Rather, the verse means that God prefers for sinners to repent rather than to perish. If they refuse to repent, God delights in His own justice enough to punish them appropriately (e.g., Psalm 1:5-6; 5:4-6; 68:2; Isaiah 13:1-22; Jeremiah 18:11). We have to be willing to praise God for His justice one way or the other (Psalm 139:19-22; Proverbs 11:10; 28:28; Revelation 19:1-3).

The appeal of churches who know what they believe...

The growth of theologically conservative churches and the corresponding decline of liberal churches has been the occasion of a lot of speculation over the years. Even sociologists have offered opinions. The findings usually suggest that people can't deal with the thoughtful subtleties and ambiguities of liberal churches. Therefore they flock to the so-called easy answers provided by conservative churches. It is reasoned that people feel "safe" with more rules so they prefer conservative churches. However, this assumes that conservative churches are more legalistic than liberal churches. But this is not at all the case. Liberal churches have the same capacity for legalism as their fundamentalist counterparts. The rules are simply different.

I would argue that liberal churches have a far greater capacity for legalism than conservative churches (I am using the term "conservative" to refer to those churches which adhere to biblical orthodoxy). One of the defining characteristics of the liberal church is the casting aside of the doctrine of the atonement. The cross is reduced to a mere demonstration of love by God; a demonstration that we must now seek to emulate. Hence, more rules. Indeed, the battle cry of the liberal church is "deeds not creeds." "It is not about what we believe," the liberals say. "It is about what we do." It is no surprise then, that the rules for behavior, belief, thought, and words is as intense in the average liberal church as anything you will find in any fundamentalist congregation.

As far as the charge that liberal churches embrace ambiguity and mystery while conservative churches opt for easy answers, I say: nonsense! Have you ever heard a liberal preacher expound on the Canaanite slaughter from Exodus? No ambiguity at all. It simply did not happen as the Bible describes. "God had nothing to do with it," we are told by the liberal preacher. Now let's move on. But for the preacher (and the church) committed to the reliability of the biblical record it is not so easy. The testimony of Scripture cannot be dismissed as erroneous. The faithful conservative preacher deals soberly with such texts, understanding that there is a certain amount of mystery involved. Careful meditation and a humble epistemology are required of the conservative church if they are to faithfully navigate highly challenging texts of Scripture. For the liberal, no such careful navigation is required. If a text is not "intellectually satisfying" (a phrase a liberal O.T. scholar used when telling me why he did not believe the creation account, the flood, the exodus, the miracles of Jesus, etc) it simply dismissed. That is far easier than having to carefully study and interpret challenging texts from a position of belief.

Al Mohler has posted an interesting article on the "success" of conservative churches as compared to the decline of liberal churches. He interacts with a now decades old book on the subject by Dean Kelley and a recent article by David Brooks which appeared in The New York Times.

Dr. Mohler points out that while sociology can observe the appeal of ardor and clarity, it cannot grasp the power of truth. This is a reality that is spiritually discerned.

A sociological analysis can distinguish between stronger and weaker forms of faith and belief and can measure qualities such as rigor, ardor, and definiteness. Sociology can trace developments and offer research-based predictions about the future.

What sociology cannot do is deal with the most important question of all — the truth question. That is where Mormons and evangelical Christians part company. Orthodox Jews, Jesuits, and Jehovah’s Witnesses all fall on the “strong” side of the sociological divide in their own way, but each has a completely distinct worldview based upon very different understandings of the truth. Mormons and Methodists have very different theologies, to say the least, but it takes a theologically informed Mormon and Methodist to know the difference.

Dean M. Kelley and David Brooks, each writing for a very different audience, have much to say to evangelical Christians. But, in the end, sociology can get us only so far and no further. The rigor, ardor, and energies of evangelical churches must not be held merely in a desire to hold to a form of religion that will grow, but in a biblical commitment to hold fast to the truth of the Gospel and to share that saving truth with the whole world.

We are left with what David Brooks described as the “blunt theological talk of the church ladies” in that African village — “right and wrong, salvation and damnation.” Such is the Kingdom.
Read the entire article HERE.