Thursday, August 31

Are You A Dispensationalist?

Over at Faith and Practice Nathan Busenitz reports John MacArthur saying:

Now, what you have to do is to go back to some very basic things. "Dispensation" simply means that God manages things in a certain way at a certain time. Everybody is a dispensationalist, everybody. I don’t care who they are in theology, they’re dispensational. It’s only a question of how many you have. Let me show you why.

Was there a difference in the way God dealt with man before the fall? Was there a difference then after the fall? Alright. Then do you believe that pre-fall is one stewardship, or one economy of time, or one way in which God dealt with man? That’s one dispensation. Then after the fall, God had to deal with man on a different basis. Why? Because sin had entered the world, and God had to deal with man on that basis. So He implemented the sacrificial system which was not necessary before that.

When Jesus Christ came and died on the cross, was there a difference after that in the way God dealt with man? Law was not the major thrust, but God’s grace was the major thrust. So already you have at least three dispensations. And what happens in the eternal state? Now you have four.

I don’t care who you are. I don’t care if you want to wave flags and deny dispensationalism. Everybody winds up recognizing that there are different ways God has dealt with man, pre-fall, post fall, pre-cross, post-cross, and eternity. You have to see distinctions, so then it only becomes a matter of discerning how God is going to deal with Israel in the future. ("Everbody is a Dispensationalist"; emphasis original)
Now if you read the comment section these comment caused a lot of heat. But I found a few things interesting. I attend a Presbyterian seminary and obviously you don't find Dispensationalist there. My professor Dr. Michael Barrett is teaching a class on Hebrews and General Epistles.

Discussing the result of Jesus's sacrifice Dr. Barrett asks the question, "Is the New Covenant a dispensational phenomenon?" He answers, "Yes." He then goes on to argue the New Covenant is operative in the Old Testament, so what's the difference? What makes the New Covenat better? As the students sit there silently, he jokingly pokes that as covenant theologians don't be shy when the term dispensationalism is thrown around. He then answers it's the Covenant's administration that's different.

He then makes this statement: "Anybody who does not take a goat to church on Sunday is a dispensationalist"--which essentially agrees with MacArthur's statement. I do agree, in a limited sense, everyone could be called dispensational (notice the little "d"), but in a very real sense there are major differences between Dispensational Theologians and Covenant Theologians. I may break off a couple of articles dealing with some issues of hermeneutics.

I did want to point out that additionally MacArthur says, "Dispensationalism, by the way, is simply a title for theology that recognizes a literal nation Israel to be restored in the future. And recognizes a literal kingdom, and a literal tribulation, and a literal return, and a literal rapture. The other perspective is what’s called non-dispensational or covenant theology, which has no place for Israel, no kingdom in the future, and essentially spiritualizes everything in prophetic literature rather than making it literal." I am aware of some covenant theologians who hold to the historical premillenial position and do find a place for Israel yet they would not hold the Dispensational hermeneutic per se.

Soli Deo Gloria

Keep an eye out for my articles about the Holy Spirit.

Setting Up a Hedge to Protect the Law

Jesus criticizes the religious leaders of his day by saying: " 'They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men. And he said to them: 'You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!' " (Mark 7:7-9).

The Pharisees placed a hedge around the law. They attempted to apply the law to every possible area of life. For example, when God commanded Israel to keep the Sabbath and not to work, the Pharisees came along and said what constituted work. But Jesus condemns the Pharisees because as they placed hedges around the law they forgot what the law itself was.

I bring this issue up because I don't know how many times I've heard preachers, teachers, and educators use this same analogy--"We are putting up guardrails so that you do not get too close to sin," but often those guardrails are made into the standard of spirituality.

I am not antinomian or even against setting up standards. I do want to provide some guardrails against setting up guardrails (does that make sense?).

  1. Realize your personal standards are secondary to the commands of God.
  2. Don't try to force your standards on others.
  3. Be conscious of others around you who are weaker (Romans 14).
  4. Remember you'll give an account for everything you do to God (Romans 14:12).
  5. In everything give God the glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).
  6. In everything act in love for fellow believers (1 Corinthians 13).
Remember Jesus says the law is summed by "Love God. Love your neighbor." Josh Harris preached a fantastic message about the unity we have in the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians, Part 2:Unity in the Cross 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 [right click to download]). In his sermon, Josh encourages us to leave our preferences behind and seek unity with other believers in the cross. I agree and encourage you to think about your own life and how you relate to other believers. Also, Jesus prays for unity for all believers and describes that unity as similar to the type of unity He and His Father share (John 17:20-21). This is our goal, but it can only be achieved the Sovereign power of God.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Believer And Assurance: Why We Doubt

Yesterday I shared a brief excerpt from a friend's email regarding the assurance of his salvation. He concluded his email with this statement and question:

Sometimes I just don’t feel like a Christian. Is this normal?
Having experienced these feelings myself, and having counseled with many other believers regarding this same issue, I believe this is a normal part of our Christian experience. Who among us always feels like a Christian? Who among us isn't continually reminded of our guilt and unworthiness? And who among us doesn't see a little bit of him or herself in doubting Thomas?

So why do we struggle with these feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness (by the way, I am quite certain these feelings are beneficial to us when we deal with them biblically)?

Possibility 1: We are slow to put our complete confidence in God’s forgiveness. Simply put, we are slow to believe God. In Isaiah 43:25, God says, "I, even I, am he that blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." Understanding our slowness to comprehend such complete and eternal forgiveness, God repeats Himself in Jeremiah 31:34, "...I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

In his book, Saved Without A Doubt (pg. 96), John MacArthur makes the following comments:

... [Christians] are often tyrannized by their emotions and feel they are too bad to be forgiven. There are several reasons for that. First, conscience speaks against forgiveness. The only thing your conscience knows about is guilt and conviction. It knows nothing of grace and mercy. Also, holiness and justice speak against forgiveness. They focus on sin and know nothing of excusing it.
It is also true that many Christians are ignorant of the fact that salvation is a completely and utterly divine act. We do not contribute to our redemption in any way ... even the faith by which we obtain salvation is a gift from God Himself (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Possibility 2: We are prone to dwelling on the past.
Too many of us have heard pastors and evangelists explain the Judgment Seat Of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10) as an event at which God will unveil a divine PowerPoint presentation of our every sin, and we will all watch in horror as our hideous indiscretions are being played out in living color for all of heaven to see.

To put it quite frankly, this is a reprehensible misrepresentation of the cross. Christ answered and accounted for the sins of His own there, making complete and total expiation for every sin. If God to were to require an accounting from His children for their sin, He would negate the cross-work of His Son and pervert His perfect justice (Hebrews 10:10-18).

It is true that memories of our past sins and failures tend to stick with us. But let us remember Philippians 3:13-14, “…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark…” replacing those recollections with memories of God's faithfulness. Then let us exclaim with Jeremiah, “this I recall to mind, therefore I have hope: it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed because his compassions fail not; they are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23)

Possibility 3: We put too much stock in our feelings. I praise God for feelings! Yes, even Baptists have emotions! Emotions and feelings are not inherently bad, evil, and sinful.

Yet, we must admit that our feelings and emotions tend to change with our circumstances. King David was a passionate and emotional man, and many of his Psalms are emotionally charged sketches of his personal battles. He asks of himself in Psalm 42, "Why so downcast o my soul?" and then rights his emotions and feelings with … "hope in God."

Our hope of heaven is not based upon our changing feelings, but upon God's unchanging promises! As John MacArthur states on page 98 of the aforementioned book,

"Assurance is built on the historical reality of what Jesus Christ accomplished. It is not a feeling without reason, and you will never have the subjective feeling of assurance until you comprehend the objective truth of the Gospel."

So let us believe the objective truth of the Gospel. Let us comprehend the amazing grace of our God. And let us echo the words of David in Psalm 16:8-11 (ESV),

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

P. S. -- Possibilities 4 & 5 will be forthcoming tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 30

T4G: Affirmation & Denials--Slavery, Women, & Oppression | Part 24

Here is my critique and commentary on Article 17:

We affirm that God calls his people to display his glory in the reconciliation of the nations within the Church, and that God's pleasure in this reconciliation is evident in the gathering of believers from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. We acknowledge that the staggering magnitude of injustice against African-Americans in the name of the Gospel presents a special opportunity for displaying the repentance, forgiveness, and restoration promised in the Gospel. We further affirm that evangelical Christianity in America bears a unique responsibility to demonstrate this reconciliation with our African-American brothers and sisters.

We deny that any church can accept racial prejudice, discrimination, or division without betraying the Gospel.

In transitioning into Article 17, I want to deal with an argument made by some which attempts to equal the slavery of African Americans in the 1800s to the oppression (slavery?) of women. Rhett Smith vents:

How is it that in Article 16 they can discriminate against women, but then in Article 17 say that any discrimination is betraying the gospel. It's just ironic to me that these articles are back to back as well. Of course they didn't say gender discrimination. And if women in ministry is not culturally conditioned or oppressive, then how come they don't say that slavery is not culturally conditioned or oppressive. Doesn't Paul in Colossians 3:18-4:1 tell not only women to submit and obey their husbands, but also for slaves to submit and obey their masters. Same text. But somehow in this confession they have seen fit to think slavery was culturally conditioned and oppressive and completely wrong, but they can't go that far with women. The continued oppression and discrimination of women is okay. ("I know, stop beating a dead horse. But stuff like this really, really burns me. Maybe it's just me!")
Rhett demonstrates a common mistake on the part of some. It's called the either-or fallacy. They give fewer options than what is really available. In the discussion between egalitarians and complementarians it runs something like this: Either women and men are completely equal without any differences or distinctions, or men are oppressing women by their headship and by the requirement of submission. The option missing is: men and women are equal with difference; submission is a positive, non-oppressive requirement; headship is the position of a loving leader and servant. Finally, all of the above can exist without oppression of any kind.

A limitation of women's participating in the governing aspects of church ministry and submission in the home does not equal slavery or oppression. I will readily admit that some men do lord their authority over their wives and place them in bondage to their perverted sense of entitlement and leadership. However, in my experience this is the exception not the rule for godly marriages. I will add this type of selfish leadership/headship is a result of the Fall--whether it's a man or woman doing the dominating.

Furthermore, in the comment section of an article posted on Dr. Ben Witherington's blog an anonymous commenter says,

[O]utside a small minority of feminist women, MOST women want a man who will protect them. Find me women who are attracted to men who are less strong than them, or that they feel aren't protectors. Many women speak like they want total equality, but when it comes to who is going to do the heavy lifting around the house, and who is going to fight the wars, who is going to be the one opening and shutting doors, paying for the meals, and providing general leadership, they will say they want MAN to do this things because that is how God WIRED men and women.
and then Chris Baker from Sandalstraps' Sanctuary responds:
1. Your comments on the nature of women remind me of the way in which slaveholders used to speak of their slaves:

Darkies need and want a massa to be over them. [emphasis original]

In general, at least per the evidence available to them, those slaveholders were right. Slaves had been culturally conditioned not to rebel against their prescribed role. [emphasis mine] Survival depended on being (or at least acting like it) who the dominant society wanted them to be.

But does it follow from this that their role was ordained by God, and built into their natural substance? Of course not. Cultural conditioning is not a sign of divine ordination.

The same is true for women. As we've seen since the rise of feminism, not all women are made from the same mold. Many women like living in a patriarchal society, this is true. But at least as many women seek to break free from the shackles of patriarchy. That you know of some women who have been conditioned to need a strong male figure in their lives does not make such cultural conditioning evidence of God's design.
I agree and disagree. First, I agree with anonymous that men and women are different by design. Men are typically stronger than women. To give a practical example of how this might play out: My wife and I are walking downtown and someone walks up behind us and asks for our money. We give it him and then he threatens my wife. Would she expect me to say, "We are equal and you are independent. Take care of yourselve. I'm out!" (while I am running away). I would be a coward. No! She expects to protect her and risk my life for hers. If the thief is threatening me I do not expect my wife to try to physically overcome him. As a matter of fact, I would encourage my wife to run out of harms way. Say what you will about equality, but in situations like this. Natural instincts take over theoretical "equality." Furthermore, I have pointed to a chapter in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood which details some of the other biological, physiological, emotional, et al differences between men and women (Section III, particularly chapter 16).

I want to pass over the comment about slavery (ending with that). Second, I disagree with Chris that women are culturally wired this way. Whenever Paul is arguing for order in the home and church, he ineveitably returns to Pre-Fall creation. This "wiring" is not a product of Victorian or American culture.

Some women do have the gift of singleness as do some men and Paul certainly values that gift, but those women who have that gift must still function live and minister in the church in a way which supports the God-ordained leadership of the Church.

Now here is the primary difference between the issue of slavery and women's "oppression." Complementarians consistently say both men and women are created in the image of God. And this has been the position of the church for a long time. The Westminster Larger Catechisms asks:
Q. 17. How did God create man?
A. After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall.
However, people during the period of slavery were denying that their slaves were equal as persons. They not only are committing a social injustice but they are disregarding the word of God. No right-minded evangelical that I know of is arguing that. Women do have a desire generally for motherhood and to manage a household; African Americans (or any other ethnic group) do not have inclinations to be slaves. Some will inevitably ask for proof for the former. I have provided some links above and if you look at history--not just American, but European, and Middle Eastern, Asian, African--women do have instincts for motherhood and men typically for work. Just one example of this (and I used this in an earlier post). Elisabeth Elliot in examining this very issue first confesses her viewpoint is from "the vantage point of 'peasants' in a Stone-Age culture" and then recalls,
"For a number of years I lived with jungle Indians of South America who expressed their masculinity and feminity in a variety of ways, never pretended that the differences were negligible, and no word for role. The femininity of woman was a deep-rooted consciousness of what she was made for. It was expressed in everything she did differently from men, from her hairstyle and clothes (if she wore any) to the way she say and the work she did. Any child knew that women wove hammocks and made pots and caught fish with their hands, cleared underbrush, planted crops, and carried by far the heaviest loads, while men chopped down trees and hunted, caught fish with nets and spears, and carried no loads at all if there was a woman around. Nobody had any complaints. These responsibilities were not up for grabs, nor interchangeable, not equal. Nobody thought of power or prestige or competition. Nobody talked about roles. This was the way things were" (RBMW "The Essence of Femininity: A Personal Perspective" 395).
She next relates the story of how she picked up a man's eight foot spear and fumbled it around and the village people "died laughing," but "had [they] not taken it as a joke, I would have been in serious trouble. Women had nothing to do with spears" (395).
We affirm that God calls his people to display his glory in the reconciliation of the nations within the Church, and that God's pleasure in this reconciliation is evident in the gathering of believers from every tongue and tribe and people and nation.
Now this my friends is the glory of the gospel. That not only is salvation for Israel as a nation, but now salvation is extend to every nation and to all men. Significantly John the Baptist announces Jesus as"[T]he Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"(John 1:29). Scripture elsewhere teaches: "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time" (1 Timothy 2:5-6), "For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe" (1 Timothy 4:10), and finally "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). At the end of the matter, we will rejoice and praise God singing:
"Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth" (Revelations 5:9-10 cf. 7:9).
We further affirm that evangelical Christianity in America bears a unique responsibility to demonstrate this reconciliation with our African-American brothers and sisters.
Some will be upset at what I am about to say, but one of my biggest concerns for the local churches is diversity. What I am not saying is that we should say seek to fulfill a certain quota for racial diversity. That would be silly. But we should make a conscious effort to reach out to different communities within our cities and we should not attempt to "save" other ethnics groups and turn them into white Americans (practically speaking). We organize our church around a what makes us as white America comfortable (Don't forget Christianity grew in the middle east). Let's not turn off different ethnic groups from joining our local congregations by lack of diversity and lack of understanding when it comes to different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Let's strive for unity in this matter.

John Piper in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals exhorts us:
If we want the meaning and the worth and the beauty and the power of the cross of Christ to be seen and loved in our churches, and if the design of the death of His Son is not only to reconcile us to God but to reconcile alienated ethnic groups to each other in Christ, then will we not display and magnify the cross of Christ better by more and deeper and sweeter ethnic diversity and unity in our worship and life? (207)
Showing how Bethlehem Baptist Church sought to enact this by writing this vision for their future Piper says:
Against the rising spirit of indifference, alienation and hostility in our land, we will embrace the supremacy of God's love to take new steps personally and corporately toward racial reconciliation, expressed visibly in our community and in our church (204; cf. Racial Harmony / Vision)
The T4G statement ends well:
We deny that any church can accept racial prejudice, discrimination, or division without betraying the Gospel.
I agree! I am against "prejudice, discrimination, or division"--whether racial, gender related, etc. I just don't think this statement reflects any kind of gender related prejudice. Of course, some will strongly disagree, but this is more again because of the either-or fallacy--loving headship and leadership and submission can exist without the oppression of man or woman.

May we strive for unity in the body of Christ across and in spite of racial and ethnical differences. Let's not neglect the command of Jesus: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19).

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)

The Believer And Assurance: Can You Really Know For Sure?

Last week I received an email from a friend that went like this:

Is it normal to not feel like a Christian at times? With life, I sometimes feel like I’m running day in and day out without Christ. When that happens I feel like I’m not putting my entire faith in Christ, because I’m making my own decisions. Yet I believe Christ died for my sins. I’ve called on the Lord as my savior, but sometimes I feel so unworthy, especially when I make day to day decisions without praying about it. I feel like I’m running life my way and not His way. Sometimes I just don’t feel like a Christian. Is this normal?
In my brief twelve years of ministry, this is the question that I am asked most often. And I have found that there is no easy answer.

As I shared with our church on Sunday night, I believe these questions dog believers for several reasons.

First, contemporary evangelicalism has equated regeneration with the recitation of a prayer. How often have you heard a pastor or evangelist recite the sinners prayer for the unsaved in the audience, concluding with these words: "If you prayed that prayer silently in your heart, God has promised to save you."

Prayer-induced "salvations" tend to place an unhealthy emphasis upon doing something to procure redemption. And if we are required to do something external to procure our redemption, the same must be true in order to secure it. While prayer is a common expression of faith, too many are depending upon a man-authored sinner's prayer to gain them admission into heaven.

Second, contemporary evangelicalism has placed an unhealthy emphasis upon a date and/or memory of one's conversion experience. Many preachers have adopted this philosophy (which leads to numerous repeat conversions): "If you can't remember the date, make sure before it's too late."

Someone (I believe it is John MacArthur) illustrates the problematic nature of relying upon a date or a memory for assurance of salvation with the following:
As a man was driving to work along the interstate highway, the Holy Spirit so convicted him of his sin and his need for a Savior that he stopped his car and called out in faith for God to save him through Christ. This man was so enthused about his newfound faith that he went to his trunk and pulled out a stake and a sledgehammer. Driving the stake into the ground beside the interstate, he thought to himself, "As I drive past this stake, I will be reminded of my faith in Christ."

Each day, as he passed the stake on his way to work, the man would smile and thank God for saving him. And then, one day, the stake was gone -- a highway worker had removed it, taking this man's assurance with it. Now as he passes where his stake once stood, his smile is turned to a frown, and his thanksgiving is turned to doubt -- all because he has staked his eternal salvation on a pointed piece of poplar.
I believe this explains why many who profess Christ as children experience a lack of assurance in their teenage and early adult years. It seems rather comical that God does not remember our sins, but we must remember our date!

Third, there is a well-documented tendency within evangelicalism to equate sanctification with salvation. While it is true that surrender of life (i.e., Lordship) is an immediate and inevitable result of saving faith, much of the change in a new believer's life (both thinking and actions) will be progressive rather than instantaneous. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV),
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
When pastors and evangelists equate saving faith with the immediate cessation of all things "worldly" (i.e., smoking, drinking, chewing, and swearing), we unwittingly contribute to this "If I'm really a Christian, then why do I still _____________?" phenomenon. It would do us and our people much good to spend some time in Romans 7 (and 8:1!), as Paul addresses his struggle with these same feelings.

So, how would you advise my friend who is struggling with feelings of guilt and unworthiness?

Tuesday, August 29

Mark Minnick on Topical Preaching

JASON: Great, Keach, in the message that you highlight, quotes from 36 different chapters in the Bible in this one sermon. And the very words of God comprise a significant [inaudible] content, you say.

This takes work. And it wasn’t even an expository message, it was a topical message. And there seems to be a reaction against topical preaching. Can you explain good, topical preaching as opposed to bad, topical preaching?

MARK: Yes, good, topical preaching is expository preaching in a multiplicity of text. There’s got to be a place for topical preaching, because the Bible itself reveals some themes in a primarily topical fashion.

Meaning, that you don’t have extended passages on that topic. Case in point, angelology. The Bible has a great deal that it says about angels. But you’re not going to find, you know, the third chapter of a certain epistle largely taken up with that. So to preach that revealed material, you’re not going to be able to go to lengthy passages working through the facts of applications of conformant. You’re going to have to pick up a multiplicity of text, all right.

But when those texts are handled they ought to be handled in the expository fashion. Meaning what? Meaning that you’re expounding those texts in a historical, in a literal, historical, pragmatical way. (Sharper Iron>> Transcript: Mark Minnick - The Sharper Iron Interview | Part 1)

As Reformed brothers, we often highlight the importance of expository preaching, but would agree that there is still a place for good, text-based topical preaching?

Offer your thoughts, critiques, & additions/subtractions to what Dr. Minnick says!

Soli Deo Gloria

Book Review: Humility

My wife and I have been reading through Humility together and it is truly a blessing and are starting Sex, Romance And the Glory of God. Especially those of you who are married realize pride is often the root problem in marriage--whether the issue be finances, daily decisions, or hurt feelings. For me, it often is a struggle to honor, love, and care for my wife as Christ cares for His bride, the Church. I'm prideful. I often think, "I've had a long day. Get this for me. Do this for me. Wash my feet!" But my Savior and Bridegroom says, "Serve her. Give of your energy to ministry to her needs. Wash her feet."
C.J.'s advice is very practical and you may have heard a lot of it before, but he communicates in a way that pierces the heart. He relates everything back to the Gospel. He provides a vignette of his own practice of killing pride in himself and his family (cf. "Fathers and Sons and Sundays").

He encourages all of us to work at recognizing the work of grace in others and at encouraging others with our words. On the flip side, he admonished us to seek correction and accountability from other believers. C.J. (and Sovereign Grace Ministries as a whole) capture the Gospel and enslave our lives to it. Humility touches an area of our life where we all fail and where the Gospel and Christ as its Founder must redeem us. If we do not kill pride, pride will kill us.
Soli Deo Gloria

David Wells on Fundamentalism and Worldliness

Historic fundamentalism seems to have misunderstood the Biblical admonition to "keep oneself unspotted from the world" while being "in the world but not of it."

So ... what is worldliness? Fundamentalists have wrestled with this question for nearly a century. Some have defined worldliness by what we wear (i.e., blue jeans are worldly because Elvis wore them when he shook his hips), how we cut our hair ("it is a shame for a man to have long hair"), or whether we owned a boob tube (or frequented the "show").

David Wells describes fundamentalism's tendencies with these words:

We have just come out of a period within the evangelical world where worldliness was treated as a very trivial matter. I actually remember the time (this dates me significantly) when Mrs. Billy Graham came to England at the very beginning of Graham's crusades, and the newspapers carried all kinds of articles about the fact that she was a Christian woman and she wore makeup. There were many Christian women in England, in those olden days, who did not wear makeup -- they thought it was worldly.

But it wasn't only makeup. There was a time when Christians didn't go to most movies. There were all kinds of worldly things that, within fundamentalism in particular, people didn't do.

The problem with this was that they identified really quite trivial things as worldly.

If you look in the New Testament, worldliness is not trivial at all. What you have, in fact, is a competing loyalty: anybody who loves the world cannot be a friend of God. That is how profound is the choice that we are making.

So the question is, where and in what ways have these antithetical, competing loyalties intruded into our souls unwittingly?
For a thoroughly biblical and fundamentally correct definition of worldliness, take a quick, five minute peek at Wells' video HERE.

Rather than emphasizing how differently Christians are to look, let us emphasize how differently Christians are to think.

When fundamentalists trivialize worldliness, we are fundamentally wrong.

Monday, August 28

Survey Question: Why Are Teens Leaving The "Church"?

Gordon Cloud over at Heavenly Heartburn asked a great question last Friday. [You can read the article and responses for yourself.]

What do you think is the greatest threat facing the church today, and what is the biblical solution for it?
There were some great responses and many "threats" that I would also view as BIG problems for the church. But if I remember correctly isn't Satan our greatest adversary (Ephesians 6:11-12; 1 Peter 5:8)? Aren't all of our BIG problems a result of his attacks on the Church of God? He is trying to defeat God's purposes in this world. I would say the our flesh and the world would come in a close 2nd and 3rd, but again maybe this is too simplistic. The solution might be to remember that we are strangers, foreigners, and soldiers in a real spiritual battle behind enemy lines. This should cause us to take Scripture and its commands seriously.

All of that is just an introduction to my own survey question:

Why are teens leaving the "church"?
Let me define who I am talking about when I say "teen". I am talking primarily about 16-22 year-olds who have been grown up in the homes of professing believers in Jesus Christ and have spent vast amounts of time attending Sunday School, Awana, Youth Group and Adult Worship Services in evangelical, even fundamental, churches. I am talking about the young, "postmodern" generation in your church. Let me also define "church" as the local, organized, membership that makes up your congregation. Theologically speaking, anyone who is a part of God's Universal Church can never leave it (Perseverance of the Saints and/or Eternal Security). These are professing Christian teens who have stopped attending any local gathering that we would view as theologically orthodox.

George Barna, Josh McDowell and others have statistics stating that 85% of teens raised in evangelical churches in America stop attending church in their late teens and early 20's. They are calling this a crisis in America. Is this happening in your church? This seems to be a universal problem across America and if we can agree that these statistics are true than we must believe that we have a SERIOUS problem.

Why do you think teens are leaving and what do you propose as the solution?

One more question along this same line. Is this a new problem or has this been the norm down through Church history? Is this a new problem or an old problem that every generation has had to face? Did Luther, Edwards, Spurgeon and Moody face this same issue? I really hope you will weigh in on this topic.

Perpetual Cubbie Disappointment: Bennett Grand Slams The Cubs Back to Chi-town

Mike Hess and his harmless Cubbies may have had their brief taste of glory earlier this season, but last night the Gary Bennett-led Cardinals pounded the nail into the Cubs' coffin again ... for the 98th straight year. A mere six more losses will guarantee the "we-have-all-the-potential" Cubs another losing season; something that's becoming an all-too-familiar phenomenon for those toothless baby bears on the north side.

While my friend Mike will be quick to point out the Cubs' winning record against the Cardinals this season (and last season, too), I will be quick to remind him of baseball's age-old adage: "what have you done for me lately?"

Mike and all other Cubs' fans may be a bit perplexed by this "what have you done for me lately" terminology. How else could you show your face as a fan of a helpless team that has failed to win a championship in 98 years (even the hapless KC Royals have won a world series since then)?

Last night, Gary Bennett's walk-off grand slam epitomizes 98 years of north-sider frustration. The last time chi-town's habitual losers walked off the field winners ...

There had never been a world war.

Israel was not a recognized nation.

Pluto had not been discovered.

New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, and Alaska had not been admitted into the Union.

Theodore Roosevelt was completing his presidency, and William Howard Taft was soon to be elected.
So, what did happen in 1908?
On January 1, a ball signifying New Year's Day drops in New York City's Times Square for the first time.

On
February 25, in Los Angeles,The Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola University) was founded.

On May 10, Mother's Day is observed for the first time (Andrew's Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia).

On July 13, Women compete in modern Olympic Games for the first time.

On August 15, Winston Churchill is ordained as a Druid in England.

On September 27, Henry Ford produced his first Model T automobile.

And finally, on October 14, The Chicago Cubs win the World Series by defeating the Detroit Tigers 2-0 in the fifth game. They haven't won the World Series since.
Ninety-eight years of perpetual disappointment could be summed up in the north-siders' perpetual hope: "There's always next year!"

If Gary Bennett retires, that is!

Saturday, August 26

"The Emerging Church": Book Review: Part 2

In Part 1 of my review of Dan Kimball's book "The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations" I offered my critique of what I believed were the problems in Kimball's book. In Part 2 I want to talk about the positives that made this a very stimulating book for me. [My words will be in red as I give a running commentary. By no means am I trying to say that my words carry the same weight as Jesus'.]

Positives:

Foreword: Brian McLaren writes, "And we have been gimmick-prone and thoughtlessly (sometimes desperately) pragmatic..." I agree completely with this statement and yet this book seems to be filled with illustrations of what "works" for postmoderns.

Chapter 1: "How should we measure success in the emerging church? By looking at what our practices produce in the called people of God as they are sent out on a mission to live as light and salt in their communities (Matthew 5:13-16)." I agree completely, yet this book seems to view success mainly by the numbers of postmoderns you can get to your worship gathering.

Chapter 2: Margin note by Mark Oestreicher, "Contrary to much of our current thinking about the importance of powerful youth ministries to the lifelong spiritual development of future adults, research proves otherwise: a teenager who attends a church's worship service on a regular basis and does not attend youth group is more likely to continue to attend church worship services as an adult than a teen who is active in youth group but doesn't attend worship services with other age groups." Our main goal should never be attendance to church, but doesn't this make you rethink youth ministry?!?

Chapter 3: "Younger people for the most part are staying away from churches and are even more interested in exploring other world faiths or spiritual beliefs." There are some scary statistics about Christian young people walking away from church and their faith. There definitely is a problem. McLaren in a margin quote says, "By the way, some of the most hard-core unchurched here are the sons and grandsons of hard-core evangelicals." Agreed, why is that?

Chapter 5: "How will you reach emerging generations who do not resonate with your church? How will you reach those who grew up and 'knew neither the LORD or what he had done'?" Kimball is right. We do have generations in the USA who weren't raised with Judeo-Christian values and who know very little if anything about the Bible . We must consider how we will reach out to them!

Chapter 7: "If no one is living out their faith to them [unsaved], how will they know anything different about Christians or who Jesus truly is?" Excellent question! What does authentic (vintage) Christianity look like today and who is actually living it out? In a margin note Sally Morgenthaler helps give the answer. "Doctrine alone is not enough; lived doctrine will make the difference between effectiveness and ineffectiveness in this spiritual landscape, whether we're wanting to reach adults or teens. The postmodern, post-Christian world is relational to the core." More than ever the younger generations are looking for true community and true fellowship.

I found Chapter 8 to be the most profound, stimulating and exciting chapter in the whole book. I believe what is found here is worth the price of the whole book. Kimball says, "If you woke up this morning and said I'm going to church today, you would actually be making a theologically incorrect statement. I [am] trying to get the point across that the church is not the building or the meeting. The church is the people of God who gather together with a sense of mission (Acts 14:27). The way leaders define church will determine how they measure success, where they focus their time and energy, how they design their strategies and form their ministry philosophies [emphasis mine]. Over time...the definition of the church itself [has become] a 'place where' idea instead of a 'people who are' reality. In our desire to attract people to our churches, have we subtly taught that church is where you come to learn about how God can help you fix your problems? Where you come to have others teach your children about God for you? Where you come for your weekly feeding in the Word of God? Where you come for quality programs to help you live life better and develop a social network. Where you come to experience high quality worship music. If the church has become the place instead of the people on a mission, leaders only naturally start focusing their efforts on what people experience when they come to the place on Sundays. In recent years, we have added the words excellence and relevance to our value statements for church. In doing so, we naturally began spending more time focusing on the quality of the music, sound system, and bulletins. As the church grows, the pressure to continue this focus increases and the problem escalates. The phenomenon of church shoppers has profoundly shaped the contemporary church. The entire conversation is not about relevance but convenience. The focus is not in serving the world; the church itself became the focal point. If we don't build everything on the biblical definition of what church is, then we will simply be fueling the consumer mindset." I AGREE 100%! There is so much to comment on here that I will be doing so in future posts about the methodology of the contemporary "church".

Chapter 10: "If we focus too much on creating cool and creative experiences for our worship gatherings--we may well end up in the same consumer Christian trap. I wonder if in the rush of creative planning and the desire to see people enjoy or worship gatherings in the modern church, we have pushed to the sidelines what we are supposed to be doing." Amen! How much time should be spent in planning and preparing for a worship service (experience?)?

Chapter 14: "We need to rethink how we tend to separate the members of families who come to worship. Perhaps the modern church has been responsible for subtly teaching parents that the church, rather than parents, is responsible for the spiritual formation of their children." This really resonated with me! What has been the impact of age & stage graded education, both spiritual and secular, on our families? Are you a Deuteronomy 6 parent? Do you know any Deuteronomy 6 parents? Do you delegate the biblical and spiritual education of your children to others?

Chapter 15: "Why do we sing primarily at the beginning of the service? The post-sermon time is an opportunity to respond to how the Word of God has encouraged, convicted, confronted, or challenged us (Hebrews 4:12). It doesn't seem natural to send [the congregation] off immediately [after the service]. Perhaps in a rush to get folks out the door after the message, we don't give them time to interact with God. Isn't this when the Holy Spirit seems to do the most work in hearts and lives?" Excellent questions! As a worship leader this really makes me think. And believe it or not these are the same thoughts my father, a fifty-something, modern, fundamental Baptist pastor had a couple of years ago!

Chapter 16: "I sense a renewed hunger for theology and an interest in discussing the mysteries of God. Emerging generations are starving for depth in our teaching and preaching and will not settle for shallow answers. Unfortunately, we've made ourselves, rather than God, the focus of our preaching. Teach on hell more than ever. If hell is a reality, and Jesus sure talked about it a lot, shouldn't we be warning people about it?" Might this explain the renewed interest in reformed doctrine and God-centered, gospel-centered, Christ-centered preaching?

Chapter 17: "We must create a culture in our churches for people to be deep students of the Bible, and this will happen only if it's the goal of preachers and teachers to teach others to feed themselves from the Scriptures. Why are we so afraid of encouraging people to think for themselves?" Amen!

Chapter 19: "We must think of ways to connect generations outside of the worship service. We have subtly taught people that they come to church to get their weekly fill-up. And so in our eagerness to see disciples made, we create consumers. As a church designs its ministry, it must emphasize spiritual formation outside of the worship services. We need to spend more time and effort teaching people how to feed themselves than we do on getting them to attend and enjoy our large weekend services." This really lines up well with what Kimball said in Chapter 8.

Chapter 20: "Emerging generations are looking for shepherds, not CEO's or executives. We need to shift from goals-driven leadership style to a relationship-driven style." Haven't the church growth guru's been telling us that to grow a large church you need to be a rancher and not a shepherd? Unfortunately you don't find the term "rancher" in the Bible. One last quote from Kimball. "Functionalism has replaced spiritual formation. Program manipulation and methodological prowess often serve as mere stop gaps to substitute for genuine spiritual leadership." Isn't it easier to start and lead a program than it is to lead and disciple individuals?

I hope Kimball's thoughts along with my commentary stimulate your thinking for the Glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom!

Friday, August 25

"The Emerging Church": Book Review: Part 1

"The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations" by Dan Kimball

Recently I have been reading books written by self-proclaimed "emerging church" leaders. In my effort to understand the emerging church movement I decided to listen to them in their own words. I didn't want to just go on others opinions or by reading bits and pieces quoted by others. I have read "A New Kind of Christian" and "A Generous Orthodoxy" by Brian McLaren and "Postmodern Pilgrims" by Leonard Sweet. You can read excellent reviews of which totally agree here: [A New Kind of Christian] [A Generous Orthodoxy]

I want to state unequivocally that I am not emergent. I believe that much of the "emergent conversation" deals with unbiblical doctrine that at times borders on heresy. With that being said I have found "The Emerging Church" to be a stimulating read. From what I can deduce it seems that Kimball's theology is much more orthodox than most emergents. Meaning, he takes a much stronger (i.e. biblical) stand on the Bible, sin (even homosexuality) and salvation. It also appears that he spent a good number of years serving as a youth pastor in a megachurch and living out purpose-driven and seeker-sensitive philosophy. What I appreciated most about this book is his diagnosis of the problems of today's church. I don't agree with every part of his diagnosis, but I did wholeheartedly agree with most of it! Although the diagnosis was right on for the most part, the solutions offered seemed to be mostly methodological and not theological or foundational. Even though he warns against this very thing in his introduction. "The danger of focusing on ministry methodology without understanding and addressing foundational issues that are far more important." He goes on to say, "If we don't understand the causes of the symptoms, our treatment is likely to be merely cosmetic, lacking in effectiveness." Which is exactly what I am afraid takes place in this book. Some of his methodology seems good, even helpful, but for the most part I found it to be post-modern-sensitive in the way that Rick Warren is modern-sensitive. Same philosophy, different methods. Turn down the lights, light the candles, unplug the guitars, lower the stage, hang some dark curtains, spend more time in prayer and silence in your services and you will be able to attract post-moderns.

In part 1 of this book review I will deal with what I see as the problems with this book. In part 2 I will highlight the positives and let you know why I found this book so stimulating.

Problems:

Much of what Kimball says in this book does seem to be highly critical of the seeker-sensitive approach to ministry even as he continues to say that it has its place when ministering to "moderns". He says, "So many of the things I had once worked so hard to eliminate in order to be seeker-sensitive, to avoid offending or confusing a seeker...were exactly the things he found the most influential in his decision to become a Christian...God used and still uses churches that employ seeker-sensitive methodology to draw hundreds of thousands of people across North America back to Jesus and his church...This time, however, it is the seeker-sensitive movement that loses touch as it grows more and more disconnected with the heart of emerging generations." This brings out what I believe is the great weakness in the emerging church philosophy - believing that the problem is one of modern/postmodern rather than biblical/unbiblical or saved/unsaved.

In Chapter 3 we get to the crux of Dan Kimball's journey from holding a seeker-sensitive philosophy to a "post-seeker-sensitive" philosophy. It begins with the desire to reach postmoderns. Despite having great worship services and wonderful facilities large, seeker-sensitive "churches seem to be grappling with a growing problem today. In spite of all these contemporary additions and amendments, we're losing ground. Younger people for the most part are staying away from churches and are even more interested in exploring other world faiths or spiritual beliefs." A desire to reach post-moderns, most of whom aren't attending church anymore, is Dan Kimball's driving motivation to be emerging. He realized he needed to change his methods without changing his message if he was to reach post-moderns. He starts with an observation: we aren't reaching the younger generations (post-moderns). What he means by this is that the younger generations aren't coming to church! This is exactly the same conclusion that Rick Warren and others of the seeker-sensitive philosophy came to in the 70's and 80's. Since people aren't coming to church we must take a survey and find out what they want and then give it to them so they will come to church. The goal is: Get the unchurched to become churched believing that if they continue attending a church service they like that sooner or later they will become Christians. Can you see the seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven, numbers-focused thinking? Kimball then falls for the fallacy that the reason the younger generations aren't attending church is a modern/postmodern problem. The megachurch, seeker-sensitive philosophy works well and is appropriate for moderns, but we need a new emergent philosophy and methodology for postmoderns.

To find a methodology that would connect with the post-modern, emerging generations that aren't coming to church anymore Kimball "took a mixed group of nonbelievers and believers in their early twenties to an excellent, seeker-sensitive contemporary worship service...Afterward we gathered, almost like a focus group, so I could listen to them talk about the experience." He then took their comments and planned his services around what these post-moderns were looking for in a church. He found out what they wanted (Christians and non-Christians) and he gave it to them. Amazingly his new post-modern services attracted large numbers of the emerging generations (please don't miss the sarcasm in this comment). Kimball says, "The unspoken motto of the seeker-sensitive movement has been a line from the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams. 'If you build it they will come.'" Kimball continues that same philosophy but uses it to attract post-moderns where the seeker-sensitive movement used it to attract moderns.

Kimball loves to use the word "vintage" to describe the type of Christianity he is encouraging in his emerging philosophy. I really like that word and I also desire the church to "go back" to the authentic, vintage Christianity of the past. Kimball describes early church gatherings in Acts as including "instruction from the Word, song, prayer, celebrating the Lord's Supper, and individual participation. They met primarily in homes..." He goes on to cite documentation from Justin Martyr to say that this tradition was continued into the second century A.D. Using this as a springboard Kimball wants to say that emerging worship services are more vintage, while at the same time talking about candles, incense, dark curtains, art, stained glass, cathedrals, etc. It seems that Kimball's "vintage" Christianity doesn't go back to the first and second centuries, but to medieval Christianity with its emphasis on mysticism and Catholic-like traditions. Rick Warren criticizes, "Unfortunately, many who want to return to the 'ancient faith' don't want to go back far enough. They only want to go back to the architecture and rituals of the Dark Ages, when the church was the most ingrown and least missional." The post-modern person, saved or unsaved, desires more mystery and mysticism in worship. They want the church gatherings to "feel more spiritual". Kimball gives them what they want by designing a service that "feels spiritual" to the post-modern. This takes us to a worship that is "multisensory". This is where art and incense come in. What contemporary worship did for the modern, multisensory worship will do for the post-modern - get them to come to church! Granted, Kimball does seem to have a honest desire and motivation for people to be saved and become authentic, active followers of Christ. But when you start with the premise of giving people, any people, what they want just to get them to church, you are building any resulting methodology on a faulty, even blatantly unbiblical, foundation.

Much of the practical methodology that Kimball encourages sounded kooky and weird to me. That is probably because I am more modern than postmodern (as Kimball would define). The pictures in the book definitely have an old Catholic feel to them. But remember, the driving force behind all of Kimball's methodological suggestions is the goal of designing a service that post-moderns saved and unsaved alike will attend and enjoy!

Part 2 will be coming shortly to outline the aspects of this book that I agreed with - namely Kimball's assessment of Christianity's problems today.

You can find another good, concise critique of this book [HERE].

Book Review: The Mortification of Sin

He that hath slight thoughts of sin, never had great thoughts of God. John Owen (quoted in "The Idol Factory")

John Owen is a man God greatly used and one of my favorite Puritans as I have said before. Owen starts off by answering the question Why this topic? "Through lack of acquaintance with the mystery of the gospel and the efficacy of the death of Christ, they [most professing Christians] have imposed a system of self-wrought mortification on the necks of their disciples which neither they nor their forefathers were ever able to bear" (viii).

John Owen provides some Proverb like wisdom through the book. . . here are my favorite two:
  • "Always be killing sin or it will be killing you" (5).
  • "The Omission of mortification withers grace while lust flourishes" (9).
He defines what mortification is not (chapter 5) and is (chapter 6).
  1. To mortify sin is not complete victory in this life.
  2. To mortify sin is not to exchange one sin for another.
  3. To mortify sin is not just an improvement of our natural temperament.
  4. To mortify sin is not just a diversion of sin into another area of our life.
  5. To mortify sin is not just occasional victory.
  1. To mortify sin is a habitual weakening of sin
  2. To mortify sin is a constant battling
  3. To mortify sin is a frequent success in battling
Then he states with clarity the problem with our attempts at mortification (really with the many attempts I know I make): "Seeking mortification of sin just to quiet the soul and find relief from the torment of the conscience, all the while neglecting to deal with the root cause of sin, is a result of self- love" (44) and further indicts our sinful souls when he points God demands complete obedience of his Word. He does not want us to obey the command not to lie, but neglect the one about sexual immorality or visa versa. God does not settle for less than all of our hearts and all of our allegiance (49-53).

The most encouraging chapter is the last--The Work of Christ and the Power of the Spirit. The Prince of Puritans recommends:

About Christ
  • "Set your faith upon Christ for the killing of your sin"
  • "Raise up your heart in faith with an expectation of relief from Christ"
  • "Place your faith particularly upon the death, blood, and cross of Christ; that is, on Christ as crucified and slain."
  • "When you meditate upon the death of Christ, keep in mind the power available to us, and your desire to be conformed to Christ."
About the Spirit
  • "He alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of evil, guilt, and danger of the corruption, lust or sin that is to be mortified."
  • "The Spirit alone reveals to us the fullness of Christ for our relief."
  • "The Spirit alone establishes the heart in the expectation of relief from Christ."
  • "The Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power."
  • "The Spirit is the Author and Finisher of our sanctification."
  • "All of our soul's prayers to God in our need are supported by the Spirit."
Owne's prayer causes sorrow and joy in my heart. It's lengthy but here it is:
I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, and I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me, and is the doorway to the ruin of my soul. I do not know what to do.

My soul has become parched ground, and a habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them. I have made vows, but I did not keep them. Many times I have been persuaded that I have gained the victory, and that I should be delivered, but I was deceived. Now I plainly see that without some great help and assistance, I will perish and be forced to abandon God.

But yet, though this is my state and condition, I will lift up my hands that hang down, and strengthen my feeble knees, for, behold, the Lord Jesus Christ has all the fullness of grace in His heart, and all the fullness of power in His hand. He is able to slay all of those enemies. There is sufficient provision in Him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, dying soul and make me more than a conqueror (Rom. 8:37)!
May the grace of God through Christ applied by the Spirit kill sin in our bodies for God's glory. May we say with the Apostle Paul:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, August 24

Lordship and Cheap Grace

While preparing for several posts on so-called Lordship Salvation, I happened upon this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (from The Cost of Discipleship, pages 45-47):

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheap-jacks' wares...

Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness that frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian "conception" of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure the remission of sins. The Church which hold the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything remains as it was before. "All for sin could not atone." The world goes on the same old way, and we are still sinners "even in the best of life" as Luther said. Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world's standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a life different under grace from his old life under sin.
Let us understand that salvation is much more than "a ticket out of hell," it's a call to live as Christ lived and to die as He died. Describing what it means to be a believer and follower, Jesus Himself says ...
Luke 9:23-24 (ESV), ... “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

Thursday's Web Highlights

Because our readers deserve much better than what they get here at The World From Our Window, here are this week's web highlights:

If you are wondering how to keep your house clean when it's full of little ones, hop on over to Amy's Humble Musings (I read this one to our children).

Justin Taylor of Between Two Worlds, has posted a plethora of interesting info this week. Here's a sampling:

Mark Driscoll's ideas on How To Destroy A Denomination
Christianity Today cover story on Calvinism: Young, Restless, Reformed
Some helpful advice for interpreting and understanding the book of Revelation
Take a peek at what Steve Camp has going on his iPod this week. It may (or may not) surprise you -- especially what he says about Mark Driscoll!

Over at FIDE-O, Jason Robertson continues his trek into Covenant Theology as he highlights Baptist Covenant Theologians and the attractiveness of Amillennialism: What's A Thousand Years Between Friends?

Although this post is several weeks old, the offer is still good: Phil Johnson, head pyrotechnician at TeamPyro, has made a high resolution picture of the beloved C. H. Spurgeon available for download. All you must do is add a frame! Now every pastor can have The Prince of Preachers looking over his shoulder while he drafts the Sunday sermon!

Ingrid Schlueter (Slice of Laodicea) informs us that in Canada a man was recently arrested for reading his Bible and praying in public.

How are you at handling reproof? If, like me, you would much rather live life reproof-free, read Bob Kauflin's post, Am I Being Stupid?

Thirsty David (The Thirsty Theologian) ponders Augustine's famous "For too little doth he love Thee, who loves any thing with Thee, which he loveth not for Thee." David writes a must-read post entitled, I Hate Too Little.

And finally, Nathan Businetz (Faith And Practice) quotes John MacArthur who says everybody is a dispensationalist.

Wednesday, August 23

Martin Luther On Music: The Final Stanza

Preface: This post is a bit lengthy, but I humbly beg you to read it in its entirety.

Because the response to yesterday's serious post turned to rampant frivolity (which, admittedly, was my fault), a follow-up post on Luther and music is necessary.

As evidenced by the following quotes, Martin Luther delighted in skillful and excellent music. [See this article by John Barber in the Reformed Perspectives magazine]

Music is an outstanding gift of God and next to theology. I would not give up my slight knowledge of music for a great consideration. And youth should be taught this art; for it makes fine skillful people.

... [W]hen man's natural musical ability is whetted and polished to the extent that it becomes an art, then do we note with great surprise the great and perfect wisdom of God in music, which is, after all, His product and His gift; we marvel when we hear music in which one voice sings a simple melody, while three, four, or five other voices play and trip lustily around the voice that sings its simple melody and adorn this simple melody wonderfully with artistic musical effects, thus reminding us of a heavenly dance, where all meet in a spirit of friendliness, caress and embrace.
When Luther discusses excellence and music, he seems to be addressing two topics: how music is to be sung and which music is to be sung.
Like Moses in his song [Ex. 15:2], we may now boast that Christ is our praise and song and say with St. Paul, 1 Cor. 2[:2], that we should know nothing to sing or say, save Jesus Christ our Savior.
In our Baptist churches we frequently sing hymns and gospel songs with theologically impotent lyrics. How many "power's" have we squeezed into the chorus of "There is Power, Power, Power, Power, Power, Power, Power, Power, Power, Power in the Blood ... In the Precious Blood of the Lamb;" thereby making a precious truth trite with blatant over-repetition. How often has the song leader reminded us that we could never sing "Standing On The Promises" while we're sitting on the premises (body position has nothing to do with the song's message).

If Martin Luther were to sit through a contemporary Baptist worship service, I am certain he would be appalled at the content and manner in which our worship is conducted. Not only do we sing many theologically suspect songs, we are so anti high-church that we have turned the worship of a holy God into a low-brow, casual, come-just-as-you-are worship experience -- with emphasis on the experience.

A quick skimming of our Baptist hymnals will highlight this phenomenon: the majority of what Baptists sing is experience-based and testimony-driven. In other words, most of the songs we sing are lyrics written about somebody else's experience with God. For example...
Now I Belong To Jesus, Jesus belongs to me, Not for the years of time alone, But for eternity.
Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul, When at the cross the Savior made me whole. (I've always wondered how non-Calvinists could sing this song in good conscience!!)
Fill My Cup, Lord
, I lift it up Lord. Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.
He Took My Sins Away, He took my sins away, And keeps me singing every day!
My Sins Are Blotted Out, I Know! My sins are blotted out I know! They are buried in the depths of the deepest sea: My sins are blotted out I know!
Now before you pick up those rocks, let me say this: there is nothing inherently wrong with experience-based testimony songs. We sing a good number of them in our church. In fact, Scripture encourages us to learn from the lives of David, Moses, and Daniel (1 Cor. 10:11; Rom. 15:4). There is much for us to glean when reading about their relationships with God.

But (and you knew it was coming), testimony songs tend to be strong on experience and weak on objective truth and theology. For example, in the aforementioned He Took My Sins Away we are never given any objective evidence describing how the author knows his sins are taken away (besides the generic, "I came to Jesus"). While many experience-based gospel songs are not unbiblical, they seem to be devoid of much objective theological truth.

Like Luther, if we are concerned with excellence in how we sing and what we sing, we would do well to:

1) Spend much time in the first one hundred pages of our hymnals. In most Baptist(ic) hymnals the first 50 - 100 pages are dedicated to the theologically rich classical hymns. Hymns like ...
O Worship The King, All Glorious Above contains seven names for God.
And Can It Be is the greatest hymn ever written by an Arminian!
Holy! Holy! Holy! My own children would love to sing this one each Sunday.
Rejoice The Lord Is King contains a great message for those who are enduring great testing and those who are brokenhearted.
O God, Our Help In Ages Past reminds us that our faith is grounded in something real and historical.
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing is one of the most true-to-life hymns ever written, and my personal favorite. "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love" describes my sinful tendencies, and it does me well to sing and profess this truth publicly.
2) Spend much time singing new, Christ-centered hymns. There has been a re-awakening to Christ-centered hymnology within the past ten years, and most of the church is unaware of it. Staurt Townend, Keith Getty, Bob Kauflin, and Steve & Vikki Cook (Sovereign Grace Ministries) are composing and arranging some great new hymns. These new cross-centered hymns are the songs our young people sing (and love) on Wednesday nights. And frankly, the theology they sing on Wednesdays is better than ninety-five percent of what they sing on Sundays!
Before The Throne of God Above paints a vivid picture of the High Priestly ministry of Christ.
I Will Glory In My Redeemer reminds us of Paul's words in Galatians 6:14, "But God forbid that I should boast, save in the cross of Christ my Lord ..."
In Christ Alone speaks for itself.
How Deep The Father's Love For Us isn't one of those ushy-gushy, Jesus is my girlfriend kind of songs; it's a cross-centered reminder of God's deep and abiding love.
3) Spend much time training our people to recognize, sing, and appreciate theologically rich hymnology. If music is an essential part of worshipping God and enjoying Him, in the words of Luther, God's people "should be taught this art; for it makes fine skillful people."

4) Spend much time scouring Presbyterian and Lutheran hymnals for three hundred year-old, new-to-us hymns. If it's true that the Presbyterians and Lutherans have all the history and tradition, Baptists need to take advantage of it!

Oh, and it wouldn't hurt to regularly sing A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. I think Luther himself would approve of this one!

Tuesday, August 22

Book Review: Knowing God

Packer's writing style is fluid and devotional--which complemented the message greatly. Packer sums up the intent of knowing God: "No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God. . . ." (18). And later he warns:

If we pursue knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate and dismiss them as very poor specimens (21).
All readers of Knowing God should meditate on these thoughts. The question, especially for the religious among us, then becomes How can I change my knowledge about God to knowledge of God? (23). This dichotomy is one of mere facts against a personal experience. Packer states these truths far better than I:
We are, perhaps, orthodox evangelicals. We can state the gospel clearly; we can smell unsound doctrine a mile away. If asked how one may know God, we can at once produce the right formula: that we come to know God through Jesus Christ the Lord, in virtue of his cross and mediation, on the basis of his word of promise, by the power of the Holy Spirit, via a personal exercise of faith. Yet the gaiety, goodness, and unfetteredness of spirit which are the marks of those who have known God are rare among us--rarer, perhaps, than they are in some other Christian circles where, by comparison, evangelical truth is less clearly and fully known. Here, too, it would seem that the last may prove to be first, and the first last (25-26).
Packer provides some great insights into the person and work of the Holy Spirit. His discussion of the Holy Spirit in chapter six ("He Shall Testify") is one of my favorite. In discussing the importance of His work says Packer, "In the first place, without the Holy Spirit there would be no gospel and no New Testament" (69) and "In the second place, without the Holy Spirit there would be no faith and no new birth--in short, no Christian" (70). In summary, "To the apostles, he testified by revealing and inspiring, as we saw. To the rest of us, down the ages, he testifies by illuminating: opening blinded eyes, restoring spiritual vision, enabling sinners to see that the gospel is indeed God's truth, and Scripture is indeed God's Word, and Christ is indeed God's Son" (71).

Later while discussing our adoption Packer writes,
Pitsfalls and perplexities regarding the ministry of the Spirit abound among Christians today. The problem is not in finding correct verbal labels, but in knowing what it is in experience that corresponds to the work of God to which the label refers. Thus, we are all aware that the Spirit teaches [us] the mind of God, and glorifies the Son of God, out of the Scriptures; also, that he is the agent of new birth, giving us an understanding so that we know God and a new heart to obey him; also, that he indwells, sanctifies, and energizes Christians for their daily pilgrimage; also, that assurance, joy, peace and power are his special gifts. But many complain in puzzlement that these statements are to them mere formulas, not corresponding with anything they recognize in their own lives.

Naturally, such Christians feel they are missing something vital, and they ask anxiously how they may close the gap between the New Testament picture of the life in the Spirit and their own felt barrenness in daily experience. Then, perhaps, in desperation they set themselves to seek a single transforming pyschic event whereby what they feel to be their personal "unspirituality barrier" may be broken for good and all. The event may be thought of as a "Keswick experience," or "full surrender," or "baptism in the Holy Spirit," or "entire sanctification," or "sealing with Spirit," or the gift of tongues, or (if we steer by Catholic rather than Protestant stars) a "second conversion," or a prayer of quiet, or of union (219).

May we not neglect the beauty and worth of the Holy Spirit. Packer equates to very different sides of abuse--first, the charismatics who would have tongues or an "experience of the Spirit" to be the litmus test of meaningful Christian living; and, second, the fundamentalist (or Arminians) who would have a decision or "full surrender" to be the litmus test of meaningful Christian living. Both are wrong. Both sides would see the other as extreme and yet they stand together.

Packer in a later chapters talks about the Christian who goes disappointed throughout his Christian life because he is moving from one disappointment to another, expecting the next Keswick decision or surrender to be the one that kills the flesh for good, or the next experience of the Holy Spirit to carry them to the end. May we avoid both extremes.

Packer then goes on to discuss some attributes of God. In his discussion about God as Judging, Jealous, Wrathful, and Good yet Severe, Packer demonstrates that these attributes stink to the modern sense of political correctness and are "out of vogue," but nonetheless these are perfections of our God and cannot be neglected.

Packer calls propitiation "the heart of the Gospel" and gives a lengthy discussion on it and then on our adoption as Sons of God. Says Packer, "were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer more pregnant summary of the gospel than that" (214). He ends the book with an exposition, of sorts, of Romans eight.

Packer is great at making the truth about God applicable to our everyday life. Get the book. Read the book and get ready to see a fuller picture of God than you have previously seen.

Soli Deo Gloria