Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Fine Art of Christian Gibberish

The latest edition of Mortification of Spin: Bully Pulpit is up and running.
This edition of the Mortification of Spin marks the inauguration of a new game: Bully Pulpit Challenge! Carl, Aimee, and Todd respond to a listener's email asking for a critique of an interview that "pastor" Carl Lentz gave recently. In this image-obsessed world, many times churches feel the need to bow to the image idols and create environments that are completely foreign to the mindset of biblical Christianity. There are many who claim to be pastors but deny God's Word through their words and actions. Why do we continue to give these people a platform, and why do we give credence to their voices? To use a forbidden phrase, the whole thing is "utterly ridiculous."

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached part 3 in our series through Acts. It is entitled "And Then There Were Twelve" (Acts 1:12-26) and can be listened to HERE.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Oh! happy state--to be bold"

I have often admired Martin Luther, and wondered at his composure. When all men spoke so ill of him, what did he say? Turn to that Psalm—"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble; therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea." In a far inferior manner, I have been called to stand up in the position of Martin Luther, and have been made the butt of slander, a mark for laughter and scorn; but it has not broken my spirit yet, nor will it, while I am enabled to enjoy that quiescent state of—"So he giveth his beloved sleep." But thus far I beg to inform all those who choose to slander or speak ill of me, that they are very welcome to do so till they are tired of it. My motto is cedo nulli—I yield to none. I have not courted any man's love; I asked no man to attend my ministry; I preach what I like, and when I like, and as I like. Oh! happy state—to be bold, though downcast and distressed—to go and bend my knee and tell my Father all, and then to come down from my chamber, and say—

"If on my face, for thy dear name,
Shame and reproach shall be;
I'll hail reproach, and welcome shame,
For thou'lt remember me."
Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Monday, February 24, 2014

Rejecting Calvinism

The Young Restless and Reformed movement which sprang to prominence in the early 2000's has received much praise and much criticism. Certainly a few of the more public personalities associated with the YRR have been a bit, shall we say, goofy. However I remain grateful for the YRR. I cannot help but wonder how I would have benefited if the many books and excellent preaching to come out of the YRR had been available when I was in university or seminary.

Of course, with any movement that gains steam quickly, there will be those who hop on quickly only to jump off later. Such is the case with Austin Fischer, author of "Young, Restless, and No Longer Reformed."

Over at Ref21 Kevin DeYoung has written a thoughtful and quite helpful review of Fischer's book.
It's worth noting the chronology in Fischer's journey. He became a Calvinist in high school (p.8) and started rethinking his Calvinism already as a freshman in college (p.19), which is not a lot of time to explore the depths of the Reformed tradition. That doesn't mean he wasn't sincerely Reformed and couldn't understand the basic contours of election and reprobation, but it does put his "deconversion" story in context. Fischer was given a John Piper book in high school and became Reformed "kicking and screaming." He then went to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (hardly a bastion of Calvinist ideology methinks) where he began to question Reformed theology. Following college, he went to Truett Theological Seminary where, judging by the acknowledgements, Roger Olson was something of a mentor to him. None of this makes Fischer's story suspect or his arguments illegitimate. What it does mean is that this is not the journey of a lifelong Calvinist or a deeply entrenched Reformed thinker who threw in the towel, as much as it is the story of ana earnest young Christian who didn't grow up Reformed, was never trained to be Reformed, but who embraced Reformed soteriology for a short time as a teenager before he found a better alternative in the Arminianism of his esteemed professors.  
I believe Fischer has tried hard to be fair with Calvinism. He does not make ad hominem arguments. He does not take cheap shots. But despite these good intentions, Fischer's arguments suffer from a lack of familiarity with important distinctions frequently cited in the Reformed tradition. For example, Fischer suggests that Calvinists believe that when people are raped, maimed, murdered, and tortured that God ultimately did those things to them (p.21). What's missing here is an awareness of the distinction between remote and primary causes. No Calvinist I know would say God rapes people. God is never the "doer" of evil. Arminians may not find the distinction compelling, but Reformed theologians have always made clear there is a difference between God ordaining what comes to pass and the role of human agency in actually and voluntarily performing the ordained action.
Read the entire review HERE.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

May we not lose Pilgrim's Progress

I am excited about a new teaching series from Ligonier on John Buyan's classic Pilgrim's Progress.

It features well produced videos of the always terrific Dr. Derek Thomas. Dr. Thomas traces both the story and the biblical themes so faithfully represented by Bunyan.

If you have never read Pilgrim's Progress or would like to study further, here are some helpful titles:
Banner of Truth's wonderful edition of Pilgrim's Progress 
Dangerous Journey - An illustrated and abridged version suitable for helping younger readers.
The Devoted Life - An outstanding collection of essays devoted to various Puritans. The chapter on Bunyan and Pilgrim's Progress is written by J.I. Packer

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

For those facing the lions...

On Sunday morning during the first service as my wife and I were standing and singing with our brothers and sisters, she leaned over and whispered in my ear, "I'm so glad we're here." I could not have agreed more.

We have lived for six months in Harrisonburg, Virginia where I serve as Lead Pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church. It has been like breathing in fresh air. They are a kind and blessedly unpretentious congregation. It takes quite a bit of time to learn of the many wonderful things about the history of Cov Pres because the church is reluctant to boast about their achievements. The congregation and session of Cov Pres honor those men who labor in preaching and teaching. Many pastors labor in churches where this is not the case.

The ministry staff at Cov Pres is united and share a strong bond of trust. The session consists of men who love Christ and his church. It is a wonderful feeling to leave staff and session meetings refreshed and encouraged. Each Lord's Day I have the immense privilege of standing to preach before men and women who love to receive God's Word. They bless me in ways that they probably are not even aware.

But not every church is like the church I am blessed to serve. I know this firsthand. Ray Ortland has written a tender piece of encouragement to pastors that acknowledges the brutal reality alive and well in some churches. He writes to a friend who has ended up being a meal for lions.
Unless there had been a spiritual breakthrough and deep repentance, conflict was inevitable.  But the conflict did not discredit you; it validated you.  It just wasn’t the validation you wanted!  All you wanted was their blessing, for the greater glory of Jesus.  But the rejection you suffered there is the reason 1 John 3:12 is in the Bible — to tell you that you’re not crazy: “And why did he murder him?  Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s were righteous.”  There it is.  That was your crime, pastor.  You were a godly man, wholehearted for the Lord.  Your ministry was righteous.  In your church, that was a fatal step.

So you lost your ministry there.  But you didn’t lose your ministry altogether.  What feels like loss is, in fact, re-investment.  You were a profound man before, and now you are even more profound.  For the rest of your life, when someone comes to you who has just taken a torpedo amidships and they’re going down, you will understand, as few men can.  You are now equipped as never before to comfort sufferers.  In your weakness and desolation, you are formidable.  What can anyone do to you now?  You’ve gone deep into the heart of Jesus, and you’ve found him to be an utterly faithful Friend.  For the rest of your life, that glorious awareness of your Friend above is going to be pouring out of you onto devastated people.  And your ministry will have more impact than ever before.
If you are a pastor serving in a hard place, don't lose hope my brother. Many of us have walked that road. We know the loneliness of it all. We know the dismay and emotional desolation of realizing that people we have tried to serve have undermined us. Some of us have even ended up in an emergency room.

It may be the Lord's will for you to travel that path a bit longer. Remember that we are hard pressed in this life. But we are not crushed. We are persecuted. But we are not destroyed. We do carry around death in our life. Brother pastor, in that brutal place full of lions God is doing some very deep mining in your heart. Do not despise your time in the den. He has not forgotten you.

Sexual Chaos

The latest Mortification of Spin: Bully Pulpit is up and running.
Aimee, Carl, and Todd like to push buttons, and this week’s installment of the Mortification of Spin is no different as they discuss sexual ethics. Our current cultural milieu is one which exalts sexual behavior, and to speak out against it is seen as heresy. But where does it stop? When will we take our stand? The gang helps to vocalize some of these major concerns, and attempts some answers to the cultural pressure.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Here we go again.

Once again we are being told that a movie is going to present the church with an amazing evangelistic opportunity. Rick Warren is on the job once again even after his assurances prior to The Passion of the Christ did not exactly pan out. The pastor of Saddleback Church will be producing small groups material to coincide with Mark Burnett's soon-to-be released film The Son of God. The material is being published by Broadman & Hollman, a Southern Baptist publisher.

Don't believe the hype my friends. I know evangelicals love the spectacular, but we should have learned our lesson by now. When will we finally believe in the sufficiency of God's Word?

I would have more to say on the subject but Tim Challies says it better than I. Challies warns that among the lessons we should have learned from the hype surrounding The Passion is that God's Word is the sufficient means by which He produces faith in the heart of the unbeliever.
The first caution is that The Passion caused us to look away from Scripture. This is ironic, of course, since The Passion was based on Scripture (plus a bit of imagination and a dash of Roman Catholic tradition). The fact is, though, that God saw fit to give us the Bible written, not displayed. He choose to give us a book, not a film. Those who pushed churches to embrace The Passion as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity made all kinds of promises, and many of those promises were based on the media. They claimed that by putting the old message into a new media it would come alive to a whole new generation and would do what preaching would not or could not. Many churches looked away from Scripture, even if only for a few weeks, and put their hope in a film.

The second caution is that The Passion took us off-mission. There is nothing more central to the church than the preaching of God’s Word. There is nothing that cuts deeper or builds stronger than the Bible faithfully taught. There is nothing we should expect God to use more powerfully than the preaching of his Word. Every revival in days past—every true revival, at least—has been a revival sparked by and carried on through preaching. We should have no expectation that God will accomplish through a film what he has only promised to accomplish through preaching. Too many churches veered off-mission when faced with the opportunity of The Passion of the Christ.
Read Challies' entire post HERE.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached the second message in our series through Acts. It is entitled "You Will Be My Witnesses" and can be listened to HERE.

Movements and the Means of Grace

Evangelicals love movements. I suppose it's because it makes us feel a part of something big or at least bigger than our church. Don't misunderstand. I like a good conference as much as anyone. I have benefited from good conferences. I appreciate Together for the Gospel, not least of all because their ambition is fairly limited to a conference every other year. They make no effort to be a quasi-denomination. I hope it stays that way. But the evangelical church, particularly in the United States, seems to birth more movements than we can keep up with. Some movements come on like gang busters and then just a quickly fade away (Remember Promise Keepers?).

What is this appetite for movements? Is it our craving for the ever new? Probably. Now that the Young Restless Reformed movement is no longer new there is evidence of former enthusiasts departing for greener pastures. Let's face it. Now that the Young Restless and Reformed are Middle-aged and exhausted it does not seem quite so cool as it once did.

But I think the more likely culprit in our craving for movements is our poor ecclesiology, particularly related to God's ordinary means of grace. I had never heard the phrase "God's ordinary means of grace" until I was introduced to the reformed faith. As a result I had no doctrinal or experiential category for the true significance of those ordinary elements that make up the corporate life of a biblically informed church. If you are unfamiliar with the term "ordinary means of grace" it refers to those elements of our gathered worship to which the Lord has attached his blessing: the preaching and reading of God's Word, the sacraments (Lord's Supper and Baptism), prayer, praise, and fellowship.

These ordinary means of grace are the things that the Lord has given his church. They are not the inventions of man. We call them means of grace because the Lord has appointed them as means by which he blesses and builds his church. We call them ordinary because there is nothing about them that is spectacular. They are not rare like miracles. They are ordinary. They are to be practiced regularly in our Lord's Day gatherings precisely because we regularly need what God offers us through them. But these are gifts not given to movements. God has given these means of grace to his church.

Movements tend to focus on a preferred market niche like women, men, black, white, young, fans of loud music, students, the balding, etc. Interestingly I don't see many movements targeting for its core the elderly or poor. But that's another post. I'm not saying that a meeting or conference tailored specifically for men or women is wrong. But it must not supplant the church, for a movement is not the church. Movements are not the inheritors of God's promises nor are they the stewards of God's oracles and his ordinary means of grace.

Christians need to be very cautious about movements. This is especially true when a movement seeks to minimize doctrinal distinctives in favor of a poorly defined quasi-mysticism. This came to my mind (once again) when I read an article about the IF Gathering.
"I hear enough people telling me how to be a good Christian mom. I don't need that," said Andrea Burkly, a Catholic who traveled from Wheaton, Illinois, to attend the Austin event. "This is a call for revival and unity, and it lined up with what's in my heart right now."

In between sessions, the mostly-young crowd discussed with each other their own sense of calling as well as hindrances such as fear and comparison. They worshipped together with hands lifted high and kneeled to pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance.
The origins of IF, as well as Allen's recently released book Restless, date back to 2007, when she woke up in the middle of the night with the vision to "gather, equip, and unleash" this generation of Christian women. Allen, 37, holds a master's in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary and had been a stay-at-home mom leading a women's group at her church Austin Stone, an Acts 29 congregation.

Since then, she published a series of Bible studies through Thomas Nelson and built up the connections necessary to organize a movement around that initial vision, one she sees echoed in the words of her friends—new and old—across the Christian blogosophere.
"We've been slow to step into our giftedness or strengths. For a long time, that wasn't an option," said Allen. Now, though, "there is something happening in our generation, and I believe it's a manifesto in a way, a call for us to link arms and to spend our lives beautifully and well for the glory of God."
I was not surprised to see the connection between the movement and a recently published book. Now a major publisher will be stepping in to create a series of studies feeding into the movement. Perhaps I am cynical but there is often much money to be made in these ventures. You will notice also the vague language of revivalism - "something happening in our generation," "unleash this generation," "step into our giftedness." I honestly don't know what any of that means.

I know I will be perceived by some as criticizing a move of God. But I assume that critics of Finney faced the same rebukes. I am troubled by movements which promise fresh experiences with God or a new movement of God and then market products to support this new outpouring. Those of us raised in conservative but non-confessional evangelicalism were steeped in that language. Everything had to be new and fresh. A steady sanctification wrought by God's ordinary means of grace in a local church was simply not a part of our diet.

I was raised attending the obligatory annual Spring and Fall revivals. There were camps and retreats and choir tours and mission trips. The underlying assumption was that in those events we would feel especially close to God; we would have a particularly "meaningful," "intimate," "authentic," etc. experience with God that was not generally available on the ordinary Lord's Day. As a result (and I was far from alone) I never considered what happened in our regular Sunday gatherings as anything particularly special.

I am happy to be part of a movement. It's called the Presbyterian Church in America. We have a rather detailed confession of faith called The Westminster Confession of Faith. We have a well thought through structure for polity, governance, dispute settling, instructions for public worship, etc. It's called the Book of Church Order. We have a growing ministry to university students called Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). We have a church planting agency. We have a missions sending agency for North America (MNA) and the World (MTW). We produce curriculum for Christian education and discipleship (Great Commission Publications). We have a university and seminary. Not too shabby.

Believe it or not, that was not a commercial for the PCA. Rather it was a means by which I might force a question: Why another movement? Why a movement without a proper confession of faith? Why a movement that would take time away from that to which I already belong? And most importantly, why a movement that is detached from oversight of a church? Why a movement that minimizes the ordinary means of grace which Jesus has entrusted to his church?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Signs and Wonders

From Michael Horton:
You know, it's ironic to me that in our day, as in every day of decline and superstition throughout church history, people turn from God's miracles to their own. What do I mean by that? Well, once people stop believing that salvation is a miracle and begin thinking that it is simply the result of human decision and effort, before long they create substitute miracles in order to retain some sense of the supernatural. Then, when they deny that in the Word the Holy Spirit miraculously creates faith and repentance, they must seek their signs through leg-lengthening. And when they deny that in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper Christ is actually miraculously given, they seek their own revelations and their own signs and wonders.

Churches that follow the apostolic, Reformation faith are charismatic in the fullest sense of that term. That is, they believe that every service of Word and Sacrament is a time of signs and wonders. They eagerly anticipate--or, at least, should eagerly anticipate, the miraculous when they come to church, because God has promised that when we gather to worship and receive God's forgiveness, he will faithfully feed his flock in the wilderness. But we often become like the cynical generation of Israelites in the wilderness who, when God reaffirmed his promise to feed them, cried out, "What! Is the Lord going to spread out a banqueting table for us right here in the middle of the desert?" But that is precisely what God does. He is a wonder-working God who feeds us among the thorns and sand of our spiritual wasteland, when and where we are least expecting.
Read the entire article HERE.

Friday, February 14, 2014

"A self-indulgent love of our own voices"

I think a lot of the rejections in evangelicalism today of God’s sovereignty and biblical infallibility are not unrelated to the more recent conversations about the need to attend regular local church services. They are all simply manifestations of a rejection of authority...
- Jared Wilson
We've all heard the mantra of the church-less Christian: "I am into Jesus, not organized religion." That used to be said by a few outliers who really had not much experience with the church to begin with. Now however it has become more mainstream.

What I have observed in evangelicalism over the last 25 years is an increasing desire to recast the church as a clearing house of various people's personal ministries and spiritual experiences. The idea is a church as a big tent paying the bills for everyone's personal small church. Who is a pastor or elder to tell someone they cannot "express their gifts" in the church? Why not promote books by John Calvin and T.D. Jakes? Why not practice Eastern meditation exercises in a women's "Bible study"? It is all part of the project of creating a church that is more about hearing the echo of my own voice in my heart rather than the voice of God from His Word.

Many thanks to Jared Wilson for writing a helpful analysis of the latest assertions of church-less Christianity. He rightly grounds our thoughts about church in our thoughts about God for what we think about the church is a window into what we think about God.

Wilson writes:
We should go to church — not mainly, but nevertheless — because it confronts and stunts our spiritual autonomy and individualism. We should go lest we become Cainites, saying “I’m not my brother’s keeper.” Or reverse Cainites, “My brothers aren’t my keepers.”

Of course most of us prefer to worship at the First Church of Hanging Out With My Friends at The Coffee Shop. Of course the more elite of us prefer to worship at My Own Speaking Engagements Community Church. Because, we believe, we “learn better” when we’re the ones doing the talking.

But something happens when you stop submitting to the communal listening of congregational worship and start filling the air with your own free range spiritual rhetoric. Your talk of God starts to sound less like God. He starts sounding like an idea, a theory, a concept. He stops sounding like the God of the Bible, the God who commands and demands, the God who is love but also holy, gracious but also just, et cetera. He begins to sound less like the God “who is who he is” and more like the God who is as you like him.
Read the entire piece HERE.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"Kids these days"

The latest Mortification of Spin: Bully Pulpit is up and running.
On this installment of Bully Pulpit, Aimee, Todd, and Carl discuss the multi-generational nature of the Bride of Christ. How do we reconcile the fact that different generations seem to want different things from a church? Is it true that we need to constantly be looking to the youth? We must fight the cultural trends and look to the wisdom of age within our churches. Listen in to this anniversary episode of Mortification of Spin and learn more about this perennial issue.
You can get Carl's take HERE.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I began a series of sermons through the book of Acts. Part one is entitled "The Acts of the Risen Jesus" (1:1-5) and may be listened to HERE.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sloth as a virtue

Work is good. There have been times when the church did not always affirm this. The work of the
clergy was the only holy vocation. Worldly work did not carry the spiritual cache of religious occupations. At the risk of oversimplifying, it was the Protestant Reformation which recovered the notion that all work is good and may therefore be done for the glory of God.

Work is valuable for a number of reasons. Certainly we ought to work in order to provide for our families. The Scriptures tell us that if a man will not work in order to provide for his family, "he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). God expects people to work as means of provision. "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (2 Thess 3:10). Virtues like industry, productivity, frugality, and generosity are all praised in God's Word.

But there is something even more fundamental to the value of work. We work because God created us to work. God made man to be productive. That is, before the fall, work was part of God's very good design. God is a worker and we bear his image. He placed the man and woman in the garden to work it, subdue it, and exercise dominion over it. Life in paradise was never meant to be lazy or unproductive. Man's God-given bliss involved working.

Of course, sin messed everything up. Because of sin our relationships are in disrepair, life is short, and work is hard. But however cursed by sin work is, it is still no less necessary, no less a means by which man may glorify God.

The Proverbs are laden with words of praise for the value of work and warnings against laziness. In his indispensable commentary on Proverbs Derek Kidner writes:

"The sluggard in Proverbs is a figure of tragi‐comedy, with his sheer animal laziness (he is more than anchored to his bed: he is hinged to it, 26:14), his preposterous excuses ('there is a lion outside!' 26:13; 22:13), and his final helplessness. 
 "When we ask him (6:9, 10) 'How long...?' 'When...?' we are being too definite for him. He doesn't know. All he knows is his delicious drowsiness; all he asks is a little a respite: 'a little...a little...a little...' He does not commit himself to a refusal, but deceives himself by the smallness of his surrenders. So, by inches and minutes, his opportunity slips away.
The rare effort of beginning has been too much; the impulse dies. So his quarry goes bad on him (12:27) and his meal goes cold on him (19:24; 26:15). He will not face things. He comes to believe his own excuses (perhaps there is a lion out there, 22:13), and to rationalize his laziness; for he is “wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason” (26:16).

Because he makes a habit of the soft choice (he “will not plow by reason of the cold,” 20:4) his character suffers as much as his business, so that he is implied in 15:19 to be fundamentally dishonest…

Consequently he is restless (13:4; 21:25, 26) with unsatisfied desire; helpless in face of the tangle of his affairs, which are like a “hedge of thorns” (15:19); and useless—expensively (18:9) and exasperatingly (10:26)—to any who must employ him…

The wise man will learn while there is time. He knows that the sluggard is no freak, but, as often as not, an ordinary man who has made too many excuses, too many refusals and too many postponements. It has all been as imperceptible, and as pleasant, as falling asleep. (pp. 42-43).
The recent CBO report that the Affordable Care Act will cost well over two million jobs has certain politicians on the left scrambling. We are used to spin from our politicians. It's like white noise. But this time it's different. This time members of Congress are telling us that the inevitable loss of millions of full-time jobs is a good thing. Now, we are told, parents will have more time for their children. We will be healthier because there will be time to prepare proper meals rather than grabbing take-out. One gets the impression that we should have stopped working years ago.

Asked about the dismal jobs projection, one congressman from New York hailed the news as good for families. He assured us this is a matter of "family values." In a rather brief sound bite he used the phrase "family values" at least 3 times. He seemed excited to finally use the phrase. But it was like watching a child ride a bike for the first time: awkward and a bit dangerous.

Other politicians and left-wing columnists are touting what would be horrible news in a sane world as the thing which will finally liberate Americans from the tyranny of work. Now we will have choices, we are told. We can finally have time to take a pottery class or work on that novel or search for the perfect cup of coffee.

One of the signs of a sick society is that it makes virtues of what ought to be stigmatized and stigmatizes virtues. Now it appears that the man who works full-time is actually a cad for not spending enough time with his family.

Now is the time when I annoy my Two Kingdom friends - The church should say something about this. This is so because what our politicians are saying is downright wicked. It is a further marring of the image of God upon humanity. It is an attack upon God's image-bearers just as are abortion and the normalization of homosexuality. To rob a man of work is to rob him of his dignity. To treat work as a tyrant and then use the machinations of public policy to remove all incentive to work is evil.

This is bad for people. It's bad for those Scripture identifies as our neighbors. Therefore the church ought to, in the words of Dylan Thomas, rage, rage against the dying of the light. We ought to push back against the darkness for the sake of those who like the darkness. We ought to tell our elected officials (they work for us, you know) that when they attack God's image bearers they are doing something wicked. When they call evil good they are sinning and sin is bad for them and those they govern.

Cousin Eddie of the Vacation movies is well known for being out of work for decades. At one point his hapless wife explains that he is holding out for a management position. Only a political culture as corrupt as our own can make that farce a virtue.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

An understanding of the church that is all too common

This will probably be the last thing I post on Donald Miller's recent revelation that he does not attend
church. No promises, mind you. Miller's two posts provide us with a rich source of understanding the bitter fruit of the consumer church. As such, reflection on this can be a fruitful endeavor. Miller's doctrine of the church is actually quite prevalent among conservative evangelicals.

Mike Cosper, author if Rhythms of Grace has written a helpful piece engaging Miller's thoughts on the purpose of the church's Lord's Day gatherings.

Cosper writes:
 [It's] no small irony that Miller, a paragon of the "me" culture of memoir, has essentially said he left church because it didn't work for him. I fear that Miller doesn't have the self-awareness to see how narcissistic and condescending his posts are, and how consumeristic his critiques of church are.

I wonder, though, if Miller's thoughts don't say as much about our contemporary worship culture as they do about Miller himself. His description of a church gathering is two-dimensional: we listen to a lecture and sing songs that connect us to God. Miller says he stopped attending because he doesn't learn from lectures and doesn't feel like he connects to God through singing.

This description of the gathered church is anemic and shabby, but it's also the description that many American evangelicals would use to describe Sunday mornings. Rather than a robust engagement with God's people, God's word, and God's Spirit through interactions with one another, songs, prayers, scripture readings, and the Lord's Supper, we think of Sundays as merely preaching and music. Rather than an immersive, formational environment shaped by the physical architecture of space and the spiritual architecture of a Gospel-shaped liturgy, Sunday Morning is a platform driven spectacle, led by mega-celebrities at mega-churches and would-be-celebrities and smaller churches. Rather than a challenging and diverse diet of milk and meat, celebration and lament, confession and assurance, we're fed a pump-up-the-jams hype fest that culminates in a "You can do it!" sermon and a marketing pitch for membership. It's an environment that feels hostile to doubt and suffering, unless your goal is to overwhelm them both with enthusiasm...

I think Miller needs to be challenged and corrected. But I also think his comments reveal the tragic lack of spiritual formation in many of our churches today. They remind us that many Christians have no meaningful vision for why the church gathers; for why we sing, preach, and pray.

The solution isn't trying harder to please religious consumers and church shoppers. Instead, we need to look to the old paths, where the good way is, and keep telling the only Story that gives us a sense of ultimate hope in this tragic and broken world.
Read the entire article HERE.

On the church with Donald Miller

By now most of you know that Donald Miller doesn't much go in for church. I wrote a response to Miller over at Ref21. Actually it's not much of a response to Miller as it is a critique of his doctrines of the church and worship. Today, Miller, recognizing that his post was receiving a lot of attention wrote a post going into more detail. Rather than clarifying or correcting his troubling doctrine, he offers more troubling and misguided theories. He digs in on the idea that the Bible really does not have anything specific to say about the gathering, structure and leadership of the church. This is, of course, nonsense and I have a hard time believing Miller actually thinks this. Of the various responses offered to Miller I have found Jonathan Leeman's to be most helpful.

In his "P.S." to Miller's follow-up Leeman writes:
P.S. Just saw your reply to a number of critics, posted around the same time as my letter. Again, some diagnoses I agree with, like, churches over-programatize. But you keep saying no one's church looks like the church in Acts?! But many churches I know do. People gather to hear the teaching of the apostles. And they scatter to enjoy fellowship and hospitality and care for one another's needs. They baptize as a way of declaring who belongs to "their number." And they exercise discipline when a professor lives falsely (okay, here I'm borrowing from the epistles, unless you count Peter's responses to Ananias, Sephira, or Simon as discipline!).

In other words, Don, the main thing I want to highlight in response to both of your posts is the difference between what you call "community" and what the Bible calls the "church." Jesus actually gave authority to those local assemblies called churches (Matt. 16:13-20; 18:15-20). The assembly is not just a fellowship, but an accountability fellowship. It's not just a group of believers at the park; it preaches the gospel and possesses the keys of the kingdom for binding and loosing through the ordinances. It declares who does and does not belong to the kingdom. It exercises oversight. And exercising such affirmation and oversight meaningfully means gathering regularly and getting involved in one another's lives.

Your idea of community, to my ears, honestly, sounds more American and Romantic (as in the -ism of the 19th century) than biblical. All authority remains with the individual to pick and choose, come and go, owing some of the obligations of love, perhaps, but always on one's own terms, happy to stay as long as the experience "completes me" and my sense of self.

Last thought, friend: I do think you're overplaying the "people have different learning styles" card. You've read Hebrews. Talk about tough trudging, right? But it's a sermon! And you know the original hearers didn't have as much education as most Americans. But for some reason the Holy Spirit thought it was adequate for everyone.

Best to you.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached from Matthew 28:16-21. The sermon is entitled "The Mission" and can be listened to HERE.

Are the unborn my neighbor?

Sometimes I almost feel sorry for Rachel Held Evans. Almost. What keeps me from crossing that line are her own words. She continues to confound me with her strange approach to reason. In a recent article she displays her confusion over the nature of personhood. Doug Wilson offers help:
Rachel Held Evans recently wrote a number of things about our public debates about contraception, and it is not my purpose to get into all that, not even to defend the admirable epithet Uncle Sugar. But she did say something near the end of her piece that I wanted to comment on because I think it is an example of how easy it is to take our increased scientific knowledge about human reproduction and apply it in precisely the wrong direction. She said this:
“The fact that a woman’s body naturally rejects hundreds of fertilized eggs in her lifetime raises some questions in my mind about where we draw the line regarding the personhood of a zygote. Do we count all those ‘natural abortions’ as deaths? Did those zygotes have souls? Will I meet them in heaven? Honestly, the more I learn about the reproductive system, the harder it becomes for me to adamantly insist that I know for sure the exact moment when life begins. And it’s even harder for me to insist that everyone else agree.”
But I don’t think this is the right conclusion to draw from our increased knowledge of the human reproductive system. It delights me that God brings all the great questions of life and death down to the razor thin issues. It delights me that there are human beings created in the image of the most high God who could fit on the head of a pin and not fall off. From the vantage point of the Almighty, the rest of us are not that much bigger. So every fertilized human egg will live forever, and every unfertilized egg won’t.

Put another way, a poet, one of your own, has said, “a person’s a person no matter how small.” The size of these tiny people only affects the clarity of the situation if we define the humanity of others on the basis of our limited eyesight. But why is the question of a soul connected to size, as though the naked eye were in charge of these things? Once the DNA strand is established, we can say any number of things about this person that we cannot say at all before that point, whether we are talking about about sperm or eggs. We can now say, for example, “it’s a girl,” or “blue eyes,” or “black skin.”

So yes, we count natural abortions as deaths. Yes, zygotes have souls. Yes, we will meet them in Heaven, provided we get there.

We live in a fallen world, and consequently there are natural abortions as a result. We also live in a world where children in the third trimester die. We live in a world where newborn children die. We all die because we are sons of Adam. Nature is not the standard because nature suffers under this bondage to decay, and will continue to do so until the sons of God are manifested to the world.
Read Wilson's entire post HERE.