Monday, July 31

Are Christians Too Christian?

Blogging from the peanut gallery is a rather easy practice, especially when Mark Driscoll is the target.

Because of the ever-present danger of being misunderstood (especially when questioning the biblical validity of a famous pastor's claims), allow me to preface my remarks with a few disclaimers:

First, I am not claiming to have arrived as far as my personal evangelism is concerned. Honestly, I am not even close to where I should be in sharing Christ as well as I should. I envy men like Mark Driscoll, men driven by a desire to personally share Christ well and often.

Second, although the church to which I belong isn't as effective in evangelism as it could and should be, we are improving. Although I may disagree with Driscoll's methodology, I rejoice that people are coming to know Christ (Philippians 1).

Third, although Driscoll seeks to distance himself from the ecclesiastical methodology of the church growth movement, he seems to embrace the movement's "win the lost at any cost" methodology. And while one can adapt outreach methodologies without compromising the Gospel message, behind every evangelism method is a philosophy. Although Driscoll's methods are somewhat disconcerting (especially to a lifetime Baptist fundamentalist), it's the driving philosophy behind those methods that demands examination.

Following is an exerpt from a Desiring God interview with Driscoll (who is Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington) in which he chides the church for being too Christian: [view the entire video HERE]

I need to get to know (the unbeliever) them and observe them. And in so doing, then, I can get to understand the ways the Gospel answers their questions and meets the real longings of their heart—because ultimately, they need Jesus. But without me knowing them, I don’t know how to articulate that Jesus is the one that they truly need.

So immersing oneself in culture is like a missionary trying to figure out, “Who are these people?” And many Christians do not have significant experience outside of their Christian world. They listen to Christian radio. They listen to Christian music. They watch Christian television. They read Christian books. Their kids go to Christian school. They go to Christian church. They go to Christian events—they go to Christian concerts. Their friends are Christian. They go to community group or home Bible study with their Christian friends. They vacation with their Christian friends. And meanwhile their neighbors don’t know Christ. But the Bible says we’re supposed to love our neighbor, and we’re supposed to practice hospitality—which is the welcoming of our neighbor. Well to do that, we need to get to know our neighbor. And I think that is an attentiveness to the detail of the lives of lost people.
While I appreciate Driscoll's desire to see people converted, and his delight in loving his neighbor, I find his comments rather disturbing.

It seems that even theologically conservative men (which describes Driscoll) struggle with this issue of cultural contextualization for the purpose of evangelism (and I do, too!). In order to fulfill their idea of the Great Commission (i.e., win the lost at any cost), they must emphasize specific aspects of Jesus' ministry while de-emphasizing the writings of the apostles (the call to holiness and cultural distinction -- see 1 Peter 1 & 2) and the OT commands to not flirt with other cultures and their practices (Isaiah 52:11).

I am not convinced that I need to immerse myself any deeper in the anti-God American subculture in order to understand unbelievers. I get enough immersion (maybe this phraseology is the Presbyterian coming out in me!) by watching television, eating at restaurants, and coaching my son's baseball team. The Gospel need not be immersed in the culture or cultural language in order to be relevant or effective, the Gospel supercedes culture.

I am not convinced that the church's problem is over-Christianization. I believe that the church's problem is it's unwillingness to keep the anti-God American subculture out of the church. The church doesn't need more of the world, the world needs more of the church.

And while I am a part of this American subculture because I have eyes and ears, I can love on and show hospitality to my unbelieving neighbor without immersing myself any deeper in it.

More to come on this topic ...

Sunday, July 30

Get the Brooms Out – AGAIN – The Cubbies Sweep the Lowly Redbirds

I know what the standings are. I know that the Cubs will be sitting at home in October contemplating yet another disappointing season that disappointed their massive army of fans. Yet I refuse to allow that to diminish the great joy that I am feeling right now over another belated celebration in the Hess household over the Cubbies total and complete domination over the Cardinals.

Face it Cardinal fans, we absolutely own your team! There is no denying that after watching your lowly Cards lose yet another game in the city of Chicago moving their total record in the city of Chicago to 0-10 (the Cards were swept earlier in the year in inter-league play by the White Sox). Not only that, the Cardinals lost to a Cubs team that has been totally depleted by injuries to their key two starters (Wood and Prior) and not having their star first baseman Derek Lee for the whole series.

Having suffered through a long Summer so far that has brought nothing but disappointment and frustration, it was a breath of fresh air being able to take in a short lived celebration as the Cubs manhandled the mighty Cards once again. The Cardinals will be forced to reevaluate their discouraged and distraught team that has suffered mightily at the hands of the vaunted Cubbies.

Through the dominant pitching of long time veteran Greg Maddux and future Cy Young award winner Carlos Zambrano the Cubbies made the Cards look like a comical mess. The bats of Rolen, Pujols, and especially Edmonds were nowhere to be found as the Cards finally faced some real pitching for a change.

I will enjoy this one for a while as I gloat in the midst of Cardinal Nation. We win and you lose and that is the bottom line. Go Cubbies and wait till next year!!!

Saturday, July 29

In Defense of One-On-One Discipleship: Part #2

I am seeking to defend (maybe too strong a word) my philosophy that one-on-one discipleship is by far the most effective means of discipleship. You can read Part #1 to see my response to the all-too-common view that small group discipleship is the biblical pattern left to us by Christ. In this second and final installment I will give you my personal reasoning from personal experience. With that being said, I wish we could do the full work of discipleship in a group setting. I wish we could just preach once, twice, or three times a week, give a Sunday School lesson and people would become disciples. I wish we could just do some small group discipleship (3, 6, 8, 12, or 24 people to a group) and people would become disciples. I wish it could happen that way. It would make my job as a pastor so much easier!

I was raised in a GREAT church (of which my dad was the pastor) that took the faithfulness-to-services approach to discipleship. If you came to all four preaching and teaching sessions the church offered than you were receiving all that was offered in discipleship. Faithfulness to church, daily Bible reading, and weekly Scripture memory were constant themes in preaching as well as highly encouraged by a church-wide challenge to read through the Bible every year and memorize the weekly memory verse. I tell you this for the sole purpose of letting you know what my philosophy was early in my own pastoral ministry. I had been raised with this philosophy and by-in-large had bought into it by default. Unfortunately, in the churches that I have pastored, faithfulness to church services has equaled greater Bible knowledge, but rarely greater biblical obedience in daily living. For some it has worked, but those people are the rare 5-15% of people who are generally self-starting, self-motivated people.

Five years ago I came to my present ministry as Associate Pastor of Discipleship. I had a great burden to see people become disciples of Jesus Christ. I was now convinced that attendance to all church services wasn't enough - at least the way we are doing church services. So we added Discipleship Classes on Sunday nights before the evening service. We taught Rick Warren's C.L.A.S.S.'s and other great studies from Walk Thru the Bible. Many members of the church were eager to learn more and participated in these discipleship opportunities. Beyond that the young couples I was working with wanted to have some small group Bible Studies during the week even though we had already transitioned our Sunday School into small groups (less than 25 people). The young men that were coming to these Bible Studies were now attending an average of six Bible teaching opportunities a week. After we finished the third small group study I challenged the twelve men there to think through the implications of Hebrews 5:12-14

"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."
I challenged them with the fact that most of them didn't need another Bible Study, sermon, or lesson. They needed to be discipled to the point of being able to disciple (teach) someone else. How many Christians do you know that will beg for another Bible Study, but never crack open their Bible to read it alone at home? They (we) yearn for small group Bible studies where in an intimate atmosphere they can have someone else teach them what God's Word says or can share their "feelings" (pooling of ignorance) on the passage, but they run from daily Bible reading and study on their own. How many "babes" in Christ do you know "that are unskilled in the word of righteousness"? I believe that describes the vast majority of Christians today!

I asked five of the most faithful, committed and biblically literate young men to join me in a small group discipleship study. I told them my goal for them was that at the end of our time together they would be discipled to the point of being able to disciple someone else. These five men already knew that they should be doing a "daily Quiet Time" and they had even gone through discipleship classes on how to do a "daily Quiet Time". The problem was that NONE of them were regularly meeting alone with God! Accountability to the group for doing a "daily Quiet Time" became the first homework assignment. After meeting for six weeks these five men would faithfully show up for the group study, but only two were regularly meeting alone with God. (I had been constantly encouraging and confronting them during these six weeks.) This was the moment I officially gave up on small group discipleship. I then took the three most promising men (humanly speaking) and began meeting with them one-on-one. Over the next two years all three men successfully became disciples - discipling someone else in a one-on-one relationship. (All the glory and praise belongs to God alone!)

At the same time my discipleship group started, I had initiated three other such groups (5 people per group). One was led by my Senior Pastor and two others by the two most godly women in our church (humanly speaking). After two years only three of the fifteen people who had been discipled in the groups were actually discipling someone else - even though twelve of them had "finished" the small group discipleship training!

About half of those who start one-on-one discipleship drop out. But 100% of those that complete one-on-one discipleship actually take up the ministry of discipling others! That ratio is so much better than the 25% ratio of those that complete small group discipleship. And those who drop out of one-on-one discipleship understand that they are NOT disciples. The reason they dropped out was because of an unwillingness to obey some aspect of God's Word. Many people who go through other discipleship programs are never truly disciples, but because they completed the discipleship course they now wrongly view themselves as disciples! This gives them a false sense of maturity!

Some of you might be saying, "At my church all we do is preach and teach and our people are disciples." Others might be saying, "We do discipleship in small groups and it is working for us." How do you determine if someone is a disciple? How do you determine discipleship success? In your opinion, what does a disciple look like? If your reasoning behind discipleship success is the belief that your church members are biblically literate, than I believe you've missed the point of discipleship. Disciples are not disciples based upon their Bible knowledge, but upon their obedience to Christ in their daily lives!

Marks of a disciple:

  1. A believer in (follower of) of Jesus Christ.
  2. In the Word of God regularly (daily).
  3. In prayer to God regularly (daily).
  4. A member of a local church that one attends regularly (all regular church meetings).
  5. Serves in a local church ministry.
  6. Participates regularly in giving financially to the local church.
  7. Witnesses as opportunities arise in the normal course of life.
  8. Participating in discipleship by discipling someone else regularly (weekly).
I believe that most pastors would consider someone a disciple if they had good general Bible knowledge, attended all church services faithfully, and served in a ministry of the local church. That is setting the standard much lower than the Bible does. If you were to combine numbers two and three above into what is commonly referred to as a "Quiet Time" I believe you would get a much better picture of who the disciples are in your church. I challenge you to do an anonymous survey in your church asking only one question - "During the average week how often do you have a Quiet Time (Bible Reading & Prayer)?" I would be surprised if over 15% of your membership has a Quiet Time five days a week. How many of your Deacons, Sunday School Teachers, Youth Leaders, etc. meet alone with God on a regular basis? Can we really say that what we are doing is effectively making disciples?

Let me know what your personal experience is.

Friday, July 28

In Defense of One-On-One Discipleship: Part #1

In response to my last post regarding discipleship my old college friend Will Hatfield responded with a common view of discipleship, a view I also held at one time, that we can accomplish discipleship in a group. After all, that was the method Christ chose.

"I would disagree slightly that one-on-one is the only method of effective discipleship. Christ after all had 12 disciples."
I by no means want to get into a dispute with Will over a very minor disagreement. (I do want to say that I never said that one-on-one discipleship was the only means of discipleship that was effective.) I knew that when I stated that discipleship

"is more effective (by far) in a one-on-one relationship! Therefore, for the most part, any form of discipleship done in a group will not bear life-long fruit."
I hadn't explained my reason for coming to this philosophical position. I would like to do so now. I will do this in two parts. First, I will deal with the view that Will mentioned that we should disciple in small groups (typically less than twelve people) because that is how Christ discipled. And since He is our model for everything we should follow Him in this as well. I will seek to do this biblically without inserting Scripture references. Second, I will give my personal reasons from personal experience as to why one-on-one discipleship is the most effective means of discipleship.

Why we should NOT follow Christ's example in discipling in small groups:

Reason #1: There is only one Jesus Christ and you are not Him!

Being fully God and fully man Jesus Christ was able to do things that we are not capable of doing (raising from the dead, miracles, healings, etc.). Being able to lead 12 individuals to spiritual formation in a small group setting is something that I believe only Christ can do.

Reason #2: Jesus was accomplishing far more than discipleship!

I believe that through a thorough study of the life of Christ you will find that Jesus was not just discipling these twelve men in the way that we typically understand discipleship. I believe Jesus was evangelizing, discipling, and accomplishing leadership and ministry training! So if you are going to fully follow Jesus you must understand that He didn't choose these men just to disciple them. His main goal was to prepare them to lead His church after His ascension. Discipleship was a part of the process, but leadership and ministry training was the main goal. Therefore, to set Jesus as your example in this way would mean that you would be training ALL of your disciples to be ministry leaders in your church (Not a bad goal at all!). I believe this goes far beyond what we are trying to accomplish in discipleship. These men weren't just disciples, they were Apostles.

Reason #3: Jesus spent far more time with His Apostles than we will ever spend with our disciples!

If biblical historians are correct, Jesus spent a minimum of two years with the Apostles (probably closer to 3 years). This is not two years of meeting once a week or even four times a week. The Apostles lived with Jesus during this time. The went everywhere together. His training was all day, every day. This means that Jesus spent at least 730 days with the Apostles discipling and training them. If we average that out to 8 hours of training a day, that would be 5,840 hours of training. This means that if you are going to follow Jesus' example you will need to spend 56 years meeting with your discipleship group once a week, two hours a week. If you were able to do that than I would whole-heartedly agree that small group discipleship can be very effective!

Reason #4: Not all twelve Apostles received the same amount and type of training from Christ!

If you agree with John MacArthur's conclusions in his book "Twelve Ordinary Men", than you will agree that even among the twelve Apostles there were three groups of four that had different "levels of intimacy with Christ." And even among those in the first group there was an even smaller inner circle made up of Peter, James and John. John MacArthur's conclusion: "This suggests that even a relatively small group of twelve is too large for one person to maintain the closest intimacy with each group member...If Christ in His perfect humanity could not pour equal amounts of time and energy into everyone He drew around Him, no leader should expect to be able to do that." I couldn't agree more! Therefore, to disciple people to the same level of spiritual formation you must keep a small group no larger than three. And even then it seems clear to me that in Christ's "inner circle" Jesus spent more time training Peter than the other two.

Conclusion:

If you agree with me that in our discipleship efforts we are trying to bring EVERYONE we disciple to the same level of spiritual formation, than I believe you will also see that if we seek to do this in a small group setting we are attempting to do something that even Christ didn't accomplish, nor try to accomplish! Therefore, the philosophy of "small group discipleship" that stems from following Christ's example is founded upon a faulty premise and seeking to accomplish discipleship in this manner will mostly leave us frustrated with the results or lack thereof.

Wednesday, July 26

The Enemies of Disciple-Making: Part #3: "An Immature Understanding of Maturity"

Back in June I began a series of posts on "The Enemies of Disciplemaking". You can view Part #1 and Part #2 to get the background for what I am going to say in this post.

When I began to feel a burden for displemaking I began to conduct my own impromptu survey. I began to ask members of my church if they had ever been discipled. Most of them understood what I meant by discipleship - "intentionally being taught from Scripture the basic truths and habits by which you can grow to spiritual maturity in Christ". But of all the people that I questioned I can only remember one person who said yes. Of all the 225 members of my church (most of them senior saints) I only knew of one person who had been intentionally discipled [I am not including the intentional methods of preaching (AM & PM services) and teaching (Sunday School). These are legitimate and important parts of disciplemaking, but only a small part of what I believe is necessary.] All the Deacons, Sunday School teachers, youth and children's leaders had basically stumbled their way through their own personal spiritual growth without any personal guidance. These statistics shocked and saddened me. [After coming to my present ministry I found the numbers only slightly better!]

It was at this point that I began to search for materials and methods to help me in my disciplemaking task. I found and purchased the C.L.A.S.S material from Saddleback Church, the 10 Basic Steps Toward Christian Maturity from Campus Crusade, Design for Discipleship from the Navigators, materials from John Maxwell, resources from Word of Life and some other "homemade" materials from pastors and churches that I knew personally. Most of this material was good, some of it was excellent. It covered the basic information I was looking for - the basic truths and the basic habits that a Christian needs to grow to spiritual maturity. I began using some of it in different settings. I began teaching the four basic C.L.A.S.S's to adults. I took teenagers through Word of Life's materials. I couldn't wait to see the transformation take place! I was waiting for noticeable spiritual maturity to begin blossoming right in front of me! Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed!

I had thought that after sitting through 16 hours of lectures (C.L.A.S.S) or going through 24 weeks of small group curriculum new and/or immature believers would become grounded and growing believers. I had developed (I'm not sure why and I wish I could find someone to blame) an assembly line view of discipleship. Put people on the conveyor belt (name your curriculum) and send them down the assembly line where the appropriate parts of their Christian growth (truths to know and habits to learn) would be bolted on. At the end of the assembly line (usually 16-24 weeks in my mind) there would be a group of grounded and growing Christians and I would be able to start this process over again with a new group - forever leaving the previous group to continue their growth with only occasional help needed from me.

How many people do you know that have a regular (however you would define it) time of Bible reading? How many people do you know that regularly study their Bible on their own? What percentage of our church members regularly spend personal time alone with God? Do we really think that lecturing them for an hour over the principles of a "Quiet Time" will actually cause them to understand what it means to read and study God's Word? Do we think that they will actually begin this daily practice and then continue it the rest of their lives? Has that been your personal experience? I've lectured in discipleship classes, taught Sunday School lessons, and preached sermons on reading and studying the Bible. I've done this too many times to count over the past 5 years in my church and in a recent survey the adult attendees to Sunday School admitted that their biggest frustration in their walk with God was their failure to spend regular time with God in Bible reading and prayer!!!!

Are lectures, lessons, and sermons enough? NO!!!! I have come to believe that it takes at a minimum 12-18 months to ground a new or immature believer in the basic Bible doctrines and habits of the Christian life. This does not mean they are mature or done growing. What it does mean is that they are what most Christians would call mature and that they can now honestly be called a disciple. A disciple is someone who has reached the point of being able to spiritually feed themselves and impart those principles to someone else because they are living them out in their lives. I have found that few people will reach this level without personal, one-on-one discipleship where they can be mentored and led through this process by hand.

So I have learned three key things about discipleship:

  1. The most important aspect of discipleship is the method! It is more effective (by far) in a one-on-one relationship! Therefore, for the most part, any form of discipleship done in a group will not bear life-long fruit.
  2. It's not about the material. Most of the material I have mentioned can be effectively used to disciple.
  3. It takes 12-18 months of one-on-one discipleship for the typical church member to reach the point of being a biblical disciple! You can't rush spiritual maturity and being a disciple doesn't mean you are mature. It means you have reached the first rung on the ladder of maturity.

Tuesday, July 25

T4G: Affirmation & Denials--Ecclesiological Reductionism? Part 17

Recently in discussing the T4G affirmation and denials with a "ghost" reader (i.e., he never comments) of this blog, he expressed concerned with the statement on ecclesiology. He thought that the statement was too reductionistic. For the readers who are unfamiliar with the term--"Reductionism in philosophy is the theory that asserts that the nature of complex things can always be reduced to (explained by) simpler or more fundamental things" ("Reductionism").

I want to argue first that this is not necessarily what is happening, at least not in the way he is meaning; and that this is what is happening just not in the way he is meaning. Confused yet? If not, you will be.

First, his concern I believe was that we not try to boil down the gospel too far and therefore miss the meaning of what the gospel is. Of course, as a Baptist I have curiously strong opinion about ecclesiology. I would have to disagree with Presbyterian's church structure on many accounts and many Baptists as well. Actually, I might have more affinity with my Presbyterian brothers than I would with a lot of my Baptist brothers. Weird, huh? As a side note, almost anyone can claim be to be Baptist and run almost any type of church government he see fits--head pastor run, deacon run, association fellowship, conventional fellowship, complete independence, plurality of elders, no elders, etc. (I am sure the list could go on).

However, when Paul is describing the Gospel, how does he do it? Paul says, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve" (1 Corinthians 15:3-5). However, the Gospel is not merely the historical facts of these events. John Piper aptly defines the Gospel for us by saying,

  • The gospel is a message about historical events: the life and death and resurrection of Christ—summoning us to open them with thorough expositions of texts.
  • The gospel is a message about what those events achieved before we experienced anything or even existed: the completion of perfect obedience, the payment for ours sins, the removal of the wrath of God, the installation of Jesus as the crucified and risen Messiah and king of the universe, the disarming of the rulers and authorities, the destruction of death—all of these summoning us to open them with thorough expositions of texts.
  • The gospel is a message about the transfer of these achievements from Christ to particular persons through our union with Christ by faith alone apart from works—which summons us to open for our people the nature and dynamics of faith by the exposition of dozens of texts.
  • The gospel is a message about the good things that are now true about us as the achievement of the cross is applied to us in Christ: that God is only merciful to us now instead of wrathful (propitiation), that we are counted righteous in Christ now (justification), that we are freed now from the guilt and power of sin (redemption), that we are positionally and progressively made holy (sanctification)—all of which summons us to open these glorious realities for our people week after week with thorough expositions of texts.
  • And finally the gospel is a message about the glorious God himself as our final, eternal, all-satisfying Treasure. “We . . . rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11). The gospel we preach is “the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” If our gospel stops short of this goal—enjoying God himself, not just his gifts of forgiveness and rescue from hell and eternal life—then we are not preaching “the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Our ultimate goal is knowing and enjoying God. As we saw in the beginning of this chapter, that is why we were created—that God might share with us the knowledge and enjoyment of himself. This is what it means for him to love us. This is what the cross ultimately obtained for us. And this too, by every text of Scripture—all of it inspired by God to awaken hope in his glory—calls for the richest exposition that our people may be fed the best and highest food of heaven.
The lack of any statement on ecclesiology is very important, but is does not mean that it is not imporant. When presenting the gospel to someone, I would not saying "Oh, by the way you have to be a Baptist" or "you have to be a Presbyterian." As a matter of fact, if someone I had the pleasure of sharing the gospel with was saved and went to a Presbyterian church I would be more than pleased.

The issue is then what am I willing to be charitable about with brothers and sisters in Christ? I can easily fellowship with Presbyterians, Baptists (of all stripes) or Sovereign Grace-ers (what do you call a member of the Sovereign Grace churches?)! I would certainly not organize my church as to be "reductionistic." If the Lord in His wisdom allows me to pastor a church someday, it will be strongly Baptistic.

Dever and Mohler are particularly strong on Baptist ecclisiology; as I am sure Duncan is about Presbyterianism. They are not saying these issues are not important, but for fellowship and ministry together for the gospel it is not paramount.

That last paragraphy really emphasizes my second point which is--reductionism is what is happening just not in the way my friend is meaning. They are boiling the gospel down to the most common denominator, so that brothers of different denominations can agree on certain elements and yet disagree on others--like ecclesiology. If you have listened to a conversation with Dever and Duncan, Dever is always looking for an opportunity to lead the answers and poke fun at certain aspects of Presbyterianism. Ecclesiogoly is important to each of these men, as it is to me. But it is not important enough that I would not fellowship with brothers from other denominations; as a matter of fact, I am Baptist and will be attending a Presbyterian seminary this Fall.

Anyways, I hope that was a helpful clarification. Any comments? What do the people who actually read my blog think? This is a post which I am curious to here a variety of responses!

Originally posted on July 25, 2006 on Under Sovereign Grace

Read the Full Statement of Affirmations and Denials

(All emphasis such as italics, bold, or color is mine unless otherwise noted)

Soli Deo Gloria

(HT: Adrian Warnock)

Monday, July 24

Book Review: The Calvinistic Concept of Culture, Part 2

I left off discussing Calvin in part 2. Val Til then begins the discussion on Abraham Kuyper. "Kuyper, according to his own conviction, was merely a copyist of Calvin. He intended to follow Calvin in utter fidelity to the Word and in the confession of God's sovereignty as expressed in the kingship of the glorified Christ" (117). Kuyper is not a "slavish copyist" and his Calvinism is often called Neo-Calvinism. He developed the idea of common grace as "the foundation for culture" (118). Van Til says (and I agree) that Kuyper goes beyond Scripture when he asserts, "without [common grace] the world would have returned to void because of the wrath of God, and man would have died physically as well as spiritually on the day of his transgression" (134).

Kuyper also develops a theory of the kingdom of God which is tied together with his view of common grace. Says Van Til, "[Kuyper teaches that] as history progresses, there will appear an increasingly conscious opposition to the kingdom of Christ, which constitutes an abuse of common grace by the haters of God (I, 452)" (122) and further, "the kingdom of heaven appears not only eschatologically at the denouement of history, but also here and now (GG, II, 672)" (124).

Next, Schilder (who I was not in the least familiar with) is discussed. The subtitle explains he emphasizes Christ as the key to culture. "The Christian should not be satisfied to eat the crumbs falling from the cultural tables of the unregenerate. . . . We must learn not to talk about common grace without its correlate, common curse (Ibid., p. 287). Both are the retardation of the full blessing and the full curse, on order that the wheat and the chaff together may ripen for the harvest" (141). Schilder also stresses that Christians are to fulfill the cultural mandate given in the garden--to subdue the earth.

The first part was the most difficult to read while the second was more philosophical but enjoyable. The third was by far the most readable, enjoyable, and practical of the entire book. I want to provide a brief look into the chapter titles because Van Til follows these relatively closely and will provide you a good idea of what's to come.

  1. The Authority of Scripture in Calvinistic Culture
  2. The Motivation of Faith in Calvinistic Culture
  3. Calvinistic Culture and the Antithesis
  4. The Calvinist and the World
  5. Calvinist Culture and Christ's Mediatorial Kingship
  6. Calvinistic Culture and Christian Calling
  7. Calvinistic Culture and Common Grace
I found the chapter on the antithesis most interesting. This discussed juxtaposing of the seed of the woman and the serpent, the believing and unbelieving. Van Til explains, "Satan is every trying to camouflage his real intention; he tries to make the world look innocuous to the people of God; he would have the people of God labor under the impression there is a neutral zone in this world, a spiritual no-man's-land, in which they may hobnob with the enemy with impunity" (181). Also, he identifies an all to familiar problem in our churches today: "All Christians ought to be warned against the sinful pride of elevating their own principles above the judgment of the Word, or identifying their program with the truth, since they too are finite, fallible sinners" (188). This humility would go along way in our churches.

Also, in his discussion on the Christian in the world he provides a Biblical balance in saying, we should "reject the bleak philosophy of those who cry, 'touch not, taste not, handle not,' who are in subjection to ordinances after the commandments of men (Col. 2:20-23). However, he [the Christian] is equally adamant against all those who would confound liberty with license and follow the Epicurean motto, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die' (1 Cor. 15:32)" (194).

This book is definitely helpful in understanding and applying a Christian worldview to every area of life. Also, Van Til provides a help sketch of some of the prominent alternative to his view which gives the book a balance and credibility.

Soli Deo Gloria

To Drink or Not To Drink, That Is the Question

I appreciate Tim Challies for pointing out a series of posts by David at The Thirsty Theologian. Ken is obviously acquainted and familiar with the guys over at The Thirsty Theologian, but this is my first time getting involved in a discussion over there. David is currently working on a series entitled "God Gave C2H6O". This is a series of posts on "beverage alcohol use" and David is making the case that "this resolution [the SBC resolution concerning alcohol], and the history of fundamentalist prohibitionism, is no less than a rejection of sola Scriptura, 'teaching for doctrines the commandments of men' (Matthew 15:9)." I highly encourage you to read Part #1 and Part #2 for yourself. Personally I am looking forward to reading his entire series which he hope to continue tomorrow. I will be checking in early in the morning.

Ken said that he was going to link to these articles, but since he is at camp this week I figured I would do my best to do his work for him. :) [Actually, I was the first to comment on these articles leading me to believe I read them first and therefore giving me first dibs on commenting about them.]

I really don't want to say too much until I have read all that David has to say. He has obviously done much more research on the subject and I thought I would see all of his conclusions before digging in deeply myself. I will say that I was raised under "total abstinence" teaching and held that view by default for most of pastoral ministry (almost 10 years). Through a series of questions by men that I was discipling I came to the biblical conclusion that you cannot a teach total abstinence as a command from the Bible. With that being said I do practice abstinence from the position of wisdom and profitability.

"All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." 1 Cor. 6:12
At this point in my life I cannot and do not partake of alcoholic beverages because for me it would be a violation of my conscience and therefore sin (Romans 14:23).

Most, if not all of the comments at The Thirsty Theologian have come from those who are in favor of "beverage alcohol use". I am curious to hear from those who oppose social "beverage alcohol use" and are in favor of resolutions similar to the one the SBC recently passed. This is a subject that I am personally very interested in and one I find to be highly practical when it comes to daily Christian living. I will await your responses.

Off To Camp ...

This week, my family and I will be attending Sr. High Camp at Camp Manitoumi near Peoria, Illinois. Camp Manitoumi is in a rather rural location, so internet access will be extremely limited if not impossible.

Therefore, Mathew and Don will pull themselves up by their blogging bootstraps, and keep The World From Our Window afloat.

Upon returning from camp, I plan on posting a wrap-up piece on the use of illustrations and stories in the sermon. Lord-willing I will share some pluses and problems with using personal illustrations and why I rely heavily upon Bible characters and their stories to illustrate Biblical truth.

Looking forward to seeing you all again near the end of the week. May the Lord keep and bless you all!

A Letter To My Youngest Daughter ... And My New Little Sister

To My Dearest And Youngest Daughter Hannah:

Your Daddy is so pleased with your new faith in Jesus Christ. Before you were born, your Mom and I began praying that you would believe in Christ, and it is such a joy that we are beginning to see God answer our prayers.

Hannah, as pleased (and proud) as I am with your profession of faith in Christ, I must share a concern with you: Daddy's greatest fear is that one day your lifestyle would prove your faith to be false and spurious. Honey, when Jesus comes to live within you, He changes your heart and mind; He transforms your desires and affections; and He becomes your Treasure ... forever. This is just as true in a five year old as it is in a fifty-five year old.

Hannah, the Christian life is a life filled with unending joy and happiness, and today you have taken the initial steps in this life of faith. Let me warn you that this new path is lined with dangers and obstacles. Following Jesus is not an easy thing; it's a hard thing. In the coming days and years, you will be forced to choose Christ's way again and again. And when you fail and fall, you will be tempted to quit. Honey, don't quit ... don't throw your faith away. Jesus said that whoever endures to the end will be saved.

Tonight at supper you prayed a prayer that you will probably not remember, but it's one I will never forget. You prayed this: "God, thank you for letting me be a Christian..."

As the tears welled up in your Daddy's eyes, I repeated your words in my heart. I silently thanked God for letting me be a Christian. I praised Him for His irresistable grace. And I paused to glory in the fact that my God has become your God.

Yesterday I was only your father; today I am your brother! I guess you could say that you and I are now twice-related! With this news, the angels in heaven are elated! And so is your Daddy!

I Love You,
Daddy

Sunday, July 23

Book Review: The Calvinistic Concept of Culture, Part 1

A while back Tim Challies wrote about reading and how someone else inspired him to read one book per week. So I decided why not?! So far. Two weeks. . . two books.

This book could rightly be titled The Christian Concept of Culture, but the "Calvinistic" is helpful in distinguishing what strand of Christianity is under discussion. For a Calvinist the thread of God's sovereignty forms the theological knot by which a lot of Reformed Theology swings. Says Richard J. Mouw in the foreword, "God is not only sovereign over the process of individual salvation. . .; he is also sovereign over the cultural patterns that have resulted from collective human activity. . . . As Abraham Kuyper--whose influence looms large in this book--once declared: 'There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry 'Mine!' "(ix-x).

The book is separated into three parts:

  1. Defining the Issue
  2. Historical Orientation
  3. Basic Considerations toward a Definition
In part 1, the first couple words of the chapter sum up the whole chapter and thesis. "The Christian is in the world, but not of the world" (15) and later Van Til narrows his thesis by directly stating: "If we confess to know God in the face of Jesus Christ, if we by grace have said, 'in thy light we see light,' then we cannot have true communion with the godless culture of our day, although we must associate with the men of the world. Indeed, we are in the world, but not of the world" (23-24). This issue is one being addresses today in relation to the Emergent Church and Postmodernity. How can one be faithful to Scripture and relevant to the culture?

The next chapter presents an idea of culture. Van Til overviews different ideas of culture by a variety of theologians. He appears a prophet when he makes this statement: "Since man is a moral being, his culture cannot be amoral" (27). This idea is thrown around a lot in the current discussion. Van Til, however, seems to mean it very differently than it is used today. Van Til would argue for Christian labor unions, Christian art, Christian you-name-it. He ends by arguing "In Christ all things are reconciled to the Father (Col. 1:14), including the culture. . . Culture which, in the words of T.S. Eliot (Op. cit., p. 30) is 'lived religion' is also restored since it is the form that religion takes in the lives of men" (35).

After defining what he means by culture, Van Til offers this helpful definition of religion "the inescapable covenantal relationship between God as Lord and his image-bearer, man" (37) and then discusses how religion and culture relate. "Since religion is rooted in the heart, it is therefore totalitarian in nature. It does not so much consummate culture as give culture its foundation, and serves as the presupposition of every culture" (39).

Furthermore, he offers a definition of Calvinism offering God's sovereignty as its linch-pin. Interestingly, many anti-Calvinists would accuse Calvin and Calvinist of relying to heavily on philosophical, logical system. Van Til argues that both are heavily rooted in the authority and finality of Scripture. In contrast Van Til appears to been even handed in his approach to Scripture, not relying on conjecture, but on Scripture. He is certainly heavily influenced by the Netherlands/Dutch Calvinism and its view of culture. More on this later. Next a discussion on the relationship of sin and culture is provided.

In part 2, Van Til discusses four theologians and their relevant views on culture--Augustine, John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, & Schilder. Augustine he says is heavily influenced by Plato and never really shook some of Plato's dualism as far as matter and spirit. Thus Augustine sees work and bodily, fleshly activity as a necessary evil, but not as something that can be good in and of itself. Van Til also introduces the concept of the antithesis in his discussion Augustine's The Two Cities. The antithesis is between the seed of Eve and the seed of the serpent. These two are always at odd and are seen in the children of God living in the world and the world of unbelievers who are tacitly or openly malevolent to the Gospel. It's noteworthy that Augustine differed very much with Plato on a lot of issues one of which is the relationship of the state and church. Augustine saw the church's goal as spiritual and higher and thus the church itself is in a higher sphere than the state (85).

Again that Calvin stressed the authority of God's word is stressed particularly in relation to predestination. Calvin sternly warns against pressing beyond the light shed in the Word of God. Also, John Calvin's view of culture is contrasted with that of the Anabaptist who saw the culture as a servant of Satan and withdrew from it (95). In this respect, I find it odd that many modern day Baptist want to find friends in the Anabaptists, but most Baptist hold to a completely different view of culture and government involvement than do the Anabaptists. "Calvin [on the other hand] saw the church and the state as two interdependent entities each having received its own authority from the sovereign God. In this conception the state is never secular, nor are state and church separated in the modern sense of the word" (95).

Many right-winged Christians chide Calvin for his concept of government and its relationship to religion. However, one cannot judge Calvin based on our modern sensibility of democracy. As a matter of fact, Calvin has a closer grasp on how theocratic government will be run. The OT theocracy was run with no distinction between church and state and the new kingdom reigned by Christ will also be ruled in sovereignty by Christ with all dissidents being rejected. Furthermore, until America was established all forms of religion against the state were "persecuted." Religious freedom is a very American ideal and while certainly praiseworthy will not be the note sung when Christ reigns.

Of course, this is not a whole sale endorsement of Calvin's governmental policies and decisions, but it is an attempt at being even handed when dealing with the established government at a different period of history. That's the key. When this discussion occurs, most modern Christians fails to understand history and discuss this issue without grace.

I will finish reviewing the second half of the book tomorrow.

To be continued...

Soli Deo Gloria

T4G: Affirmation & Denials, Part 16

Here is my critique and commentary on Article 15:

We affirm that evangelical congregations are to work together in humble and voluntary cooperation and that the spiritual fellowship of Gospel congregations bears witness to the unity of the Church and the glory of God.

We deny that loyalty to any denomination or fellowship of churches can take precedence over the claims of truth and faithfulness to the Gospel.

As I noted earlier, this statement draws out the inter-working of the universal Church. How should churches who are in different denominations (?) and in different regions and in different countries work together? Not only how but why?

We are not striving after the wind when we strive for more unity in the greater Church. Christ Himself prays,

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me (John 17:20-23).
This, I believe, has been something long neglected and long lost in certain segments of conservative, orthodox Christianity--unity. Notice the word humble in the affirmation. Why humbly? Because althougth we believe the Bible to be without error and especially clear in matters of doctrine, we also know the wickedness and sinful tendencies in our own hearts. We must in charity give our brothers the benefit of the doubt, that is brothers who are within the bounds of orthodox Christian doctrine and belief. We do not afford this same type of charity to say Catholics or Mormons. We afford them charity, but not charity in humble fellowship.

Not only is the Church's unity at stake, but God's glory. God's glory is at stake in our unity! Is that a weighty enough thought for you? Think about. The next time you mistreat or speak ill of a brother in Christ think, "God's glory is at stake." This should cause us to be charitable to those who are in Christ and to be militant against those who teach error in the church. If we allow error in the church, God's glory is at stake. The next time you fail to confront or speak with someone teaching error think, "God's glory is at stake."

The denial focuses in on this issue when it says, We deny that loyalty to any denomination or fellowship of churches can take precedence over the claims of truth and faithfulness to the Gospel. One cannot cherish any denomination over God's glory. When the Gospel is not preached, we must be wary of not cutting the cord of denominational loyalty. However, let's not mistake fighting to regain a Gospel-centered denomination for agreement with the errror. Of course, at some point the two may meet. But Paul's admonition to "patiently endure evil" (2 Timothy 2:24) comes to mind. As a matter of fact, Josh Harris preached a fantastic message ("Humble Orthodoxy") dealing with this issue and I wrote a related post (" 'Approved by God': How to Handle the Word of God & Doctrinal Error").

A tension is evident between the unity we must seek and is promised by God and the purity we must keep in His church, weeding out doctrinal error. This tension is healthy and it is good. But you cannot favor unity over purity or purity over unity and be healthy yourself. You must strive for both.

"Christian hearts, In Love United" by Ni­ko­laus L. von Zin­zen­dorf

Christian hearts, in love united,
Seek alone in Jesus rest;
Has He not your love excited?
Then let love inspire each breast;
Members on our Head depending
Lights reflecting Him, our Sun,
Brethren His commands attending,
We in Him, our Lord, are one.

Come, then, come, O flock of Jesus,
Covenant with Him anew;
Unto Him Who conquered for us,
Pledge we love and service true;
And should our love’s union holy
Firmly linked no more remain,
Wait ye at His footstool lowly,
Till He draw it close again.

Grant, Lord, that with Thy direction,
“Love each other,” we comply,
Aiming with unfeigned affection
Thy love to exemplify;
Let our mutual love be glowing,
Thus will all men plainly see,
That we, as on one stem growing,
Living branches are in Thee.

O that such may be our union,
As Thine with the Father is,
And not one of our communion
E’er forsake the path of bliss;
May our light ’fore men with brightness,
From Thy light reflected, shine;
Thus the world will bear us witness,
That we, Lord, are truly Thine.

Originally posted on July 13, 2006 at Under Sovereign Grace.

Read the Full Statement of Affirmations and Denials

(All emphasis such as italics, bold, or color is mine unless otherwise noted)

Soli Deo Gloria

(HT: Adrian Warnock)

Saturday, July 22

T4G: Affirmation & Denials, Part 15

Here is my critique and commentary on Article 14:

We affirm that the shape of Christian discipleship is congregational, and that God's purpose is evident in faithful Gospel congregations, each displaying God's glory in the marks of authentic ecclesiology.

We deny that any Christian can truly be a faithful disciple apart from the teaching, discipline, fellowship, and accountability of a congregation of fellow disciples, organized as a Gospel church. We further deny that the Lord's Supper can faithfully be administered apart from the right practice of church discipline.
I want to handle Articles XIV & XV together because they are short and so closely related. The first deals with the inter-working of the local congregation and the second the universal congregation. These also highlight the over-arching theme which I wanted to discuss at the outset. I wanted to use this statement as a spring board for the topic of unity & purity in the Body of Christ. Plus my critique of Article XVI might be a little longer in the coming. Lord willing I hope to minister to those who differ with me by the manner and tone in which I critique Article XVI. This article appears to have caused the most division and debate.

This affirmative says, We affirm that the shape of Christian discipleship is congregational, and that God's purpose is evident in faithful Gospel congregations, each displaying God's glory in the marks of authentic ecclesiology. The shape of Christian discipleship is extremely important because discipleship is the groundwork of the church. Christ commissioned the church to make disciples. This Great Commission has been greatly misunderstood in the Church today. I will not go into great depth here because I have already written an article called "The Greatly Misunderstood Commission" where I have addressed this topic. Nevertheless, I will contend one cannot misunderstand the purpose or means of fulfilling the Great Commission and be in obedience to Christ on this point.

Part of being a faithful Gospel congregation is by faithfully fulfilling the Great Commission. Each congregation is responsible to cultivate disciples for Christ. Also, this statement highlights what's at stake by our church's methodology--God's glory. Does our discipleship make clear the glory of God? Or is it underhanded? Deceitful? Dishonest?

Second, this statement presents some necessary components of a healthy church--teaching (Matt. 28:18-20), discipline (Matt. 18:15-19), fellowship (Heb. 10:25), and accountability (Heb. 13:17) . Not only having these present, but also organizing these components into a church body constitutes the reality of a Gospel church. I want to briefly offer this quotation from Mark Dever's & Paul Alexander's The Deliberate Church:
Growing Christians welcome other Christians into their lives for the purpose of confessing their sins to one another (James 5:16; 1 John 1:5-10). . . .

Bringing our sin into the light by confessing it in the context of personal accountability friendships helps to prevent the sins we struggle with now from becoming scandalous later. The wise pastor will publicly encourage such accountability relationships, understanding them as biblical, preventative measures that decrease the likelihood and frequency of sins meriting the public discipline of the church (68-69).
This last statement seems a little vague--We further deny that the Lord's Supper can faithfully be administered apart from the right practice of church discipline--but I think I understand its meaning. The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians says,
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world (vv. 27-32).
By exercising the accountability and church discipline properly we help discourage people from participating in the Lord's Supper who ought not and thereby allow each member to discipline himself/herself rather than the Lord having to discipline that individual. Another comment from The Deliberate Church might be helpful:
As baptism guards the front door of the church, the Lord's Supper takes its post at the back door. Communion is a symbol of the unity and fellowship of the church. The prerequisites for participation in that symbol are continued repentance and belief. . . . Those giving either no evidence or contrary evidence regarding genuine repentance and belief should be excluded from the Lord's Supper. In barring tan unrepentant member from the Lord's Supper, we are treating him as an unbelieving outsider. That is, we are barring him from the primary symbol of church unity and fellowship, and thereby clarifying the boundary between the church and the world (107-108).
As some have aptly noticed a lot of information is missing from this article. Who and how should baptism be administered? What type of church government must a church institute? RWP or AGW (anything-goes-worship...I say that tongue-in-cheek)? However, this article provides a succinct overview of the basics of a Gospel church and the eclectic nature of the ministries involved at T4G--Baptists (conventional), Presbyterians, Sovereign Grace (family of churches?), & "independents" (i.e., MacArthur's church).

To be continued...

"Hymn 8" by Isaac Watts
The safety and protection of the church.
Isa. 26:1-6.
How honorable is the place
Where we adoring stand!
Zion, the glory of the earth,
And beauty of the land!

Bulwarks of might grace defend
The city where we dwell;
The walls, of strong salvation made,
Defy the assaults of hell.

Lift up the everlasting gates,
The doors wide open fling;
Enter, ye nations that obey
The statues of the King.

Here shall you taste unmingled joys,
And live in perfect peace,
You that have known Jehovah's name.
And ventured on His grace.

Trust in the Lord, for ever trust,
And banish all your fears;
Strength in the Lord Jehovah dwells,
Eternal as his years.

For the complete Hymns and Psalms of Watts go here.

Originally posted on July 23, 2006 at Under Soveriegn Grace

Read the Full Statement of Affirmations and Denials

(All emphasis such as italics, bold, or color is mine unless otherwise noted)

Soli Deo Gloria

(HT: Adrian Warnock)

[!] FREE SERMON CHALLENGE Part Deux

You faithful readers of the World remember when I first came abroad I threw out a little challenge to the readers. I gave a quotation and asked for the author and book. The quotation was written by my seminary president Michael Barrett in Complete in Him.

Now I want to issue another challenge. Same deal. The person who can identify the quotation without using google wins. Also, a friend cannot google it for you and then tell you the answer. The winner will receive the complete set of John Piper sermons on Romans, Galatians, 2 Thessalonian, & lectures on Calvinism, Curt Daniel's series on the History and Theology of Calvinism, Covenant Seminary's lectures on Calvin's Institutes, & an assortment of my top Podcasts. If you answer it within 24 hours, I will let you choose any set of sermons out of my MP3 collection (saying it is extensive is an understatement). So without further ado, the quotation:

We must not isolate the atonement from God's larger plan and strategy for his world. Evangelists may sometimes seem to do this through their own strategy of starting with people's need for forgiveness and new life and then presenting Christ and his cross as opening the door to both. But when the NT writers--especially in Paul's letters. . .--explain Christ to Christians, they anchor his death and resurrection/enthronement in the Father's eternal purpose. That purpose produced a plan of history unfolding through promise and fulfillment--that is, here and now, as our teacher by his word and Spirit. . ., our Lord, champion and final judge. . ., and our great high priest who once for all offered himself in sacrifice for us, and now from his throne intercedes for us. The writers see all this as paving the way, not just to the completing of our salvation, but also, and even primarily, to the future renewing of this whole cosmos in, through and under Christ, so as to bring everything into the full glory of the already inaugurated age to come.
I will need the author and the book. If you have a guess, shoot me an e-mail at USGBlog AT bellsouth DOT net and then post that you have guessed in the comments section. The first two to guess correctly win! (Former winners cannot win again. Some restrictions may apply...)

Soli Deo Gloria

What's Playing on Your MP3 Player?

I have read some different posts on what to fill your MP3 player with so I thought I might contribute some of my favorite podcasts/vodcasts. I am actually riding the wave because I recently purchased an iPod Nano--black with engraving on the back (which will read Mathew B. Sims: Soli Deo Gloria). I'm psyched.

I have recently gotten good use of iTunes. If you don't have iTunes you can get it for free here. My recent Podcast subscriptions include:

  1. Audio Sermons @ Jubilee (Adrian Warnock)
  2. BJU Chapel Hour
  3. Covenant Life Church (Josh Harris)
  4. Desiring God 2006 National Conference Videos
  5. Desiring God Radio (John Piper)
  6. ESPN PTI
  7. Faith Free Presbyterian (Alan Cairns)
  8. First Presbyterian Columbia--Morning & Evening (Sinclair Ferguson)
  9. Grace to You (John MacArthur)
  10. Mars Hill Church Sermon Video (Mark Driscoll)
  11. Mars Hill Church: Everything Audio
  12. Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian (Ian Paisley)
  13. Renewing Your Mind with RC Sproul
  14. Resurgence featured Video
  15. RUF at Winthrop
  16. RUF Summer Conference 2006
  17. The Masters Seminary Faculty Lectures Series
  18. Transforming Presence (Skip Ryan)
  19. White Horse Inn (Michael Horton)
  20. Mount Calvary Baptist Church (Mark Minnick)
You definitely cannot listen to everything, but what a wealth of resources for FREE! Now the Podcasts I keep constantly updated and listen to the most are Desiring God, Grace to You, Mount Calvary, White Horse Inn, & Covenant Life Church.

What's on your MP3 players? and what kind of player do you have?

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, July 21

A Master Storyteller On Storytelling From The Pulpit

Charles Spurgeon was a master illustrator and storyteller. When Spurgeon illustrated truth through story, he did so with childlike simplicity and vivid poignancy, leaving the hearer or reader with a three-dimensional portrait. How did he do it?

Rather than dissect and diagnose how a master storyteller paints a picture in his hearer's mind's eye, I will let you read for yourself. Immersing yourself in the writings of good storytellers will sharpen your illustrating skills more than any homiletics class or book (I speak from experience).

Following are a few illustrations Spurgeon uses to illustrate the value of illustrations!

Mr. Paxton Hood once said, in a lecture that I heard him deliver, "Some preachers expect too much of their hearers; they take a number of truths into the pulpit as a man might carry up a box of nails; and then, supposing the congregation to be posts, they take out a nail, and expect it to get into the post by itself.

Now that is not the way to do it. You must take your nail, hold it up against the post, hammer it in, and then clinch it on the other side; and then it is that you may expect the great Master of assemblies to fasten the nails so that they will not fall out."

We must try thus to get the truth into the people, for it will never get in of itself; and we must remember that the hearts of our hearers are not open, like a church door, so that the truth may go in, and take its place, and sit upon its throne to be worshipped there. No, we have often to break open the doors with great effort, and to thrust the truth into places where it will not at first be a welcome guest, but where, afterwards, the better it is known, the more it will be loved.

Illustrations and anecdotes will greatly help to make a way for the truth to enter; and they will do it by catching the ear of the careless and the inattentive. We must try to be like Mr. Whitefield, of whom a shipbuilder said, "When I have been to hear anybody else preach, I have always been able to lay down a ship from stem to stern; but when I listen to Mr. Whitefield, I cannot even lay the keel."

And another, a weaver, said, "I have often, when I have been in church, calculated how many looms the place would hold; but when I listen to that man, I forget my weaving altogether."

You must endeavor, brethren, to make your people forget matters relating to this world by interweaving the whole of diving truth with the passing things of every day, and this you will do by judicious use of anecdotes and illustrations ...

A preacher should instance, and illustrate, and exemplify his subject, so that his hearers may have real acquaintance with the matter he is bringing before them. If a man attempted to give me a description of a piece of machinery, he would possibly fail to make me comprehend what it was like; but if he will have the goodness to let me see a drawing of flute various sections, and then of the whole machine, I will, somehow or other, by hook or by crook, make out how it works.

The pictorial representation of a thing is always a much more powerful means of instruction than any mere verbal description ever could be. It is just in this way that anecdotes and illustrations are so helpful to our hearers.

For instance, take this anecdote as illustrating the text, "Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret."

A little boy used to go up into a hay-loft to pray; but he found that, sometimes, persons came up, and disturbed him; therefore, the next time he climbed into the left, he pulled the ladder up after him. Telling this stow, you might explain how the boy thus entered into his closet, and shut the door. The meaning is not so much the literal entrance into a closet, or the shutting of the door, as the getting away from earthly sources of distraction, pulling up the ladder after us, and keeping out anything that might come in to hinder our secret devotions. I wish we could always pull the ladder up after us when we retire for private prayer; but many things try to climb that ladder. The devil himself will come up to disturb us if he can; and he can get into the hay-loft without any ladder.

--Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students, third series, pages 52, 54-55
Let us read the great storytellers, learning to illustrate God's profound truth in simple yet three-dimensional terms, painting with word pictures that leave God's people with a profound understanding of God's truth.

People know truth because they've heard it; people understand truth because they've seen it.

Thursday, July 20

And This Guy Is America's Pastor?

Here are some rather troubling revelations concerning the newly dubbed "America's Pastor," a.k.a. Rick Warren: [exerpted from The New Yorker magazine and available HERE]

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Saddleback Church, Rick Warren hired the Anaheim Angels' baseball stadium. He wanted to address his entire congregation at once, and there was no way to fit everyone in at Saddleback, where the crowds are spread across services held over the course of an entire weekend. So Warren booked the stadium and printed large, silver-black-and-white tickets, and, on a sunny Sunday morning last April, the tens of thousands of congregants of one of America's largest churches began to file into the stands. They were wearing shorts and T-shirts and buying Cokes and hamburgers from the concession stands, if they had not already tailgated in the parking lot. On the field, a rock band played loudly and enthusiastically. Just after one o'clock, a voice came over the public-address system –"RIIIICK WARRRREN" – and Warren bounded onto the stage, wearing black slacks, a red linen guayabera shirt, and wraparound NASCAR sunglasses. The congregants leaped to their feet. "You know," Warren said, grabbing the microphone, "there are two things I've always wanted to do in a stadium." He turned his body sideways, playing an imaginary guitar, and belted out the first few lines of Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze. His image was up on the Jumbotrons in right and left fields, just below the Verizon and Pepsi and Budweiser logos. He stopped and grinned. "The other thing is, I want to do a wave!" He pointed to the bleachers, and then to the right-field seats, and around and around the stadium the congregation rose and fell, in four full circuits. "You are the most amazing church in America!" Warren shouted out, when they had finally finished. "AND I LOVE YOU!"...
Warren seems to enjoy special prognosticating abilities and claims to hear directly from God ...
When he held his first public service ... he stood up in front of 205 people he barely knew in a high-school gymnasium—this shiny-faced preacher fresh out of seminary – and told them that one day soon their new church would number 20,000 and occupy a campus of 50 acres. Today, Saddleback Church has 20,000 members and occupies a campus of 120 acres.

Once, Warren wanted to increase the number of small groups at Saddleback—the groups of six or seven that meet for prayer and fellowship during the week – by 300. He went home and prayed and, as he tells it, God said to him that what he really needed to do was increase the number of small groups by 3,000, which is just what he did.

Then, a few years ago, he wrote a book called The Purpose Driven Life, a genre of book that is known in the religious-publishing business as "Christian Living," and that typically sells 30,000 to 40,000 copies a year. Warren's publishers came to see him at Saddleback, and sat on the long leather couch in his office, and talked about their ideas for the book. "You guys don't understand," Warren told them. "This is a 100 million copy book." Warren remembers stunned silence: "Their jaws dropped." But now, nearly three years after its publication, The Purpose Driven Life has sold 23 million copies. It is among the best-selling nonfiction hardcover books in American history. Neither the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, nor the Washington Post has reviewed it. Warren's own publisher didn't see it coming. Only Warren had faith. "The best of the evangelical tradition is that you don't plan your way forward – you prophesy your way forward," the theologian Leonard Sweet says. "Rick's prophesying his way forward."

In the wake of the extraordinary success of The Purpose Driven Life, Warren says, he underwent a period of soul-searching. He had suddenly been given enormous wealth and influence and he did not know what he was supposed to do with it. "God led me to Psalm 72, which is Solomon's prayer for more influence," Warren says. "It sounds pretty selfish. Solomon is already the wisest and wealthiest man in the world. He's the King of Israel at the apex of its glory. And in that psalm he says, 'God, I want you to make me more powerful and influential.' It looks selfish until he says, 'So that the King may support the widow and orphan, care for the poor, defend the defenseless, speak up for the immigrant, the foreigner, be a friend to those in prison.' Out of that psalm, God said to me that the purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence. That changed my life. I had to repent. I said, I'm sorry, widows and orphans have not been on my radar. I live in Orange County. I live in the Saddleback Valley, which is all gated communities. There aren't any homeless people around. They are 13 miles away, in Santa Ana, not here." He gestured toward the rolling green hills outside. "I started reading through Scripture. I said, How did I miss the two thousand verses on the poor in the Bible? So I said, I will use whatever affluence and influence that you give me to help those who are marginalized."
Rick repeatedly tells people it's not about him ...
Not long after the Anaheim service, Warren went back to his office on the Saddleback campus. He put his feet up on the coffee table. On the wall in front of him were framed originals of the sermons of the 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon, and on the bookshelf next to him was his collection of hot sauces. "I had dinner with Jack Welch last Sunday night," he said. "He came to church, and we had dinner. I've been kind of mentoring him on his spiritual journey. And he said to me, 'Rick, you are the biggest thinker I have ever met in my life. The only other person I know who thinks globally like you is Rupert Murdoch.' And I said, 'That's interesting. I'm Rupert's pastor! Rupert published my book!'" Then he tilted back his head and gave one of those big Rick Warren laughs.

"I went to South Africa two years ago," Warren said. "We did the Purpose Driven Church training, and we simulcast it to 90,000 pastors across Africa. After it was over, I said, 'Take me out to a village and show me some churches.'"

In the first village they went to, the local pastor came out, saw Warren, and said, "I know who you are. You're Pastor Rick."

"And I said, 'How do you know who I am?' " Warren recalled. "He said, 'I get your sermons every week.' And I said, 'How? You don't even have electricity here.' And he said, 'We're putting the Internet in every post office in South Africa. Once a week, I walk an hour and a half down to the post office. I download it. Then I teach it. You are the only training I have ever received.'"
And he has written a book subtitled, "Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission"...
The religious vision is uncomplicated and accepting: "God wants to be your best friend." Warren's Christianity, like his church, has low barriers to entry: "Wherever you are reading this, I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity. Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you. Go ahead. If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God! You are now ready to discover and start living God's purpose for your life." ... Warren's God is not awesome or angry and does not stand in judgment of human sin. He's genial and mellow.
All while comparing his ministry philosophy to that of his favorite theologian, Charles Spurgeon himself...
In look and feel, in fact, The Purpose Driven Life is less 21st century Orange County than it is the 19th century of Warren's hero, the English evangelist Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon was the Warren of his day: the pastor of a large church in London, and the author of best-selling devotional books. On Sunday, good Christians could go and hear Spurgeon preach at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. But during the week they needed something to replace the preacher, and so Spurgeon, in one of his best-known books, Morning and Evening, wrote 732 short homilies, to be read in the morning and the evening of each day of the year. The homilies are not complex investigations of theology. They are opportunities for spiritual reflection. (Sample Spurgeonism: "Every child of God is where God has placed him for some purpose, and the practical use of this first point is to lead you to inquire for what practical purpose has God placed each one of you where you now are." Sound familiar?)

The Oxford Times described one of Spurgeon's books as "a rich store of topics treated daintily, with broad humour, with quaint good sense, yet always with a subdued tone and high moral aim," and that describes The Purpose Driven Life as well. It's a spiritual companion. And, like Morning and Evening, it is less a book than a program. It's divided into 40 chapters, to be read during 40 Days of Purpose.
Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you ... America's pastor!

Wednesday, July 19

Illustrating Scripture or Scripturalizing Illustrations?

Illustrations are a tool for exposition, not a substitute for sound explanation. The preacher who constructs sermons to serve illustration rather than solid biblical exposition inevitably drifts from pulpit to stage, from pastor to showman.
These are the words of Bryan Chapell in his timeless text for preachers, Christ-Centered Preaching (pages 189-190).

I share Dr. Chapell's concern with the contemporary preacher's tendency to over-illustrate and under-exegete. While story and anecdote can open the window to biblical truth, overuse may pull the blinds on the hearer's spiritual understanding!

Contemporary evangelical leaders and pastors have counseled young pastors to develop the art of storytelling (see Rick Warren, Bruce Wilkinson, and Joel Osteen). In The Purpose-Driven Church, Rick Warren shares the following benefits to using stories to communicate spiritual truth (page 232):
Jesus captured the interest of large crowds with techniques that you and I can use. First, he told stories to make a point. Jesus was a master storyteller. He would say, "Hey, did you hear the one about..." and then tell a parable in order to teach a truth. In fact, the Bible shows that storytelling was Jesus' favorite technique when speaking to the crowd ... Somehow preachers forget that the Bible is essentially a book of stories.*** (see below) That is how God has chosen to communicate his Word to human beings.

Stories hold our attention. The reason television is so popular is because it is essentially a storytelling device. Comedies, dramas, the news, talk shows -- even commercials -- are stories.

Stories stir our emotions. They impact us in ways that precepts and propositions never do. If you want to change lives, you must craft the message for impact, not for information.

Stories help us remember. Long after a pastor's clever outline is forgotten, people will remember the stories from a sermon. It is fascinating, and sometimes comical, to watch how quickly a crowd tunes in when a speaker begins telling a story and how quickly that attention vanishes as soon as the story is finished.
***I strongly disagree with this assertion. I believe the Bible is a book containing a single story -- the story of Christ.

Rick is right (gasp!), but only partially (exhale!). Jesus did use stories -- Jesus used stories to illumine human understanding to divine truth. Yet Jesus' stories (parables) often went misunderstood by many (a truth which Warren ignores in his book).
John 10:6, "This parable spoke Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spoke unto them."
If Jesus, the master storyteller, illustrated spiritual truth with stories that were misunderstood, do we really think we, in our preaching, will fare much better? This is one huge reason I believe preachers must show restraint in illustrating and storytelling.

In the book, Rediscovering Expository Preaching (written by John MacArthur and the Master's Seminary faculty), Richard L. Mayhue shares the following biblical motivations and practical reasons for illustrating (pages 248-249):
The emphasis that writers of Scripture place on illustrations should be a most compelling motivation for us to walk in their footsteps. We delight in the imagery and illustrations of the Old Testament prophets in such passages as Isaiah 20, Amos 5, and Ezekiel 1. Jesus also captivated His audience with illustrations from nature and with parables. Revelation becomes intensely memorable because of the numerous illustrations and imagery from the OT.

Here are the major "whys" of illustrating:

1. To interest the mind and secure the continuing attention of the audience.

2. To make our preaching three dimensional and lifelike.

3. To explain Christian doctrine and duties in a clear understandable manner.

4. To communicate convincingly to those who respond better to pictures than to facts.

5. To ensure that the message is unforgettable.

6. To involve all the human senses in the communication process.

7. To catch the hearing of the disinterested.
Mayhue concludes...
Wise is the contemporary preacher who emulates his ancient predecessors, not to mention using their materials as a primary source of illustrations.
So, how can contemporary preachers illustrate biblically and effectively? Are today's listeners so media-oriented that we must scripturalize stories in order to reach them? Why are preachers prone to overusing personal illustrations (which tend to become exaggerated and self-promoting) and neglecting the inspired illustrations and exciting stories God has given us in His Word?

I will be addressing these, among other questions in the upcoming days. Before I sign off for today, here are a couple of questions that keep me up at night (okay, not really ... see what I mean about exaggerating?). Are there theological truths that cannot and should not be illustrated? And why do preachers insist on illustrating the cross? We've all heard the story about the draw-bridge operator who takes his son to work...

Vacation at Disney World

In my weekly (and most times weakly) attempt to keep you coming back to the World From Our Window, I give you a few highlights and lowlights from my recent vacation to Disney World. Traci's parents were gracious enough to treat us to a four-day-three-night stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge including all meals and tickets to the Theme Parks. For the most part we had a GREAT time as a family. This was our first time away in seven months and also our first "family" vacation with our son Tylar.

Highlights:

  1. Watching Tylar have fun was almost as big a thrill for me as participating in the fun myself. I really had fun with Tylar on the roller coasters because we were the only two courageous enough to go on them. So it was definitely some great bonding time! (He has very little fear, which might not always be a good thing.)
  2. Disney has many spectacular rides and shows! It is some of the best amusement that money can buy! (At times it gets to the point of sensory overload!)
  3. The Animal Kingdom Lodge is beautiful and the mattress was great! They also have a huge pool with a waterslide that we took full advantage of!
  4. The food was tremendous! (I gained five pounds.)
  5. Enjoying all of this without having to worry about the cost - PRICELESS!

Lowlights:

  1. Evolutionary theory is firmly entrenched at Disney and it is proclaimed as fact with deep conviction.
  2. The crowds were huge and at times oppressive. (It is unbelievable how many people they pack in to those theme parks.)
  3. The temperature was also excessive and oppressive.
  4. A five-year-old's patience with long lines and high temperatures is only slightly shorter than my own. The only difference is he has no problem voicing his displeasure frequently, which can further exacerbate the problem.
  5. It is amazing how underwhelmed we can be after seeing so many "spectacular and amazing" rides and shows. The thrill doesn't last as long as we hoped and the desire for an even greater thrill becomes harder and harder to satisfy. I was surprised at how Tylar was unimpressed with many of these "wonderful" things he was able to experience - most of them for the first time.

At the risk of being one of those pastors who uses his children as illustrations I will point out a few things I learned about myself through the mirror of my child.

  1. We are inherently selfish. "I want" was a phrase heard many times. I'm not sure my response was that effective. It definitely wasn't original, but I hope it is biblical - "It's not about you or what you want."
  2. We are completely ungrateful. We could barely get Tylar to say "thank you" and of course all the things that he was given were never enough to satisfy his desire for "more".

There are some spiritual applications that could be made from all of this, but I will leave that work up to you. I hope you are having a great summer as a family and have been able to find some time for a "family" vacation!