Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I was thinking about blood pressure. Who in the world figured that out? How did someone stumble across the procedure that involves an air-filled cuff around the upper arm with a stethoscope listening for beats? What were they looking for? Perhaps my friend Dr. Jones can ask his wife, Dr. Jones, about it.

It is amazing to think about all the discoveries that have been made and all there is to know.  I would imagine that many medical discoveries were accidents. But along the road of experimentation, the wonder of God’s creation of the human body becomes even more impressive to the thinking mind. What a great God we serve, who never had to figure out anything about the human body. He knows it precisely and exhaustively. We humans just have to figure it out along the way.

Of course, sphygmomanometer had to be an accident. No one could come up with a word like that on purpose. But I am glad it works.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Fuzzy Borders

Reading Psalm 27 this morning reminded me of an age old problem with life. This problem very likely may make the distinction between the successful and the mediocre. It is the problem of fuzzy borders.

Life in the twenty-first century seems unlike life at any other time. Technology has exploded with the result that choices abound. In fact, choices overwhelm us because opportunities overwhelm us. In a quieter time in history, “lights out” happened at sundown, and choices for evening activity did not involve recording one show while you watched another. In a quieter time in history, daily work began early and wasn’t interrupted by email, blogs, news, and phone calls.

Today, many have fuzzy borders in their lives. They don’t know what to give and what to keep. They don’t know how to say “No” to things less pressing. They don’t have the will to prioritize their affections and desires. The most desirable gets done, regardless of how much of a waste of time it is, or how unproductive it may be.

Mark McCormack, head of International Marketing Group (IMG, a large sports management agency) spends a lot of time in his book Staying Street Smart In An Internet Age developing the idea of managing time. If the children of this world have recognized this need for sharp borders, how much more should children of the light, who have a much greater calling.

We need to sharpen the borders of our lives, to clearly define the things that are “in” and “out.” We must refuse to get distracted by things that do not further the mission for which God has placed us on the earth. We must seek to know God, and to do what God has called us to do. Put everything else outside the border.

With the psalmist may we say,

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple.
Psalm 27:4

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Emergents, Islam, and God

In Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren is trying to make a case for a less stringent doctrinal center. In so doing, he engages in a number of inanities, which can be seen from simply reading the full title. Since I don’t want to take up too much bandwidth, I won’t repeat the title here.

In one chapter, he cites a story from author Diana Butler Ross about her daughter Emma and an encounter with a veiled Muslim woman. Emma asked why the woman was wearing a veil and Ross explained to her that “she dresses like that—and covers her head with a veil—because she loves God. That is how her people show they love God.” Ross continued her explanation by saying, “Christian ladies show love for God by going to church, eating the bread and wine, serving the poor, and giving to those in need.” She relates that after that, Emma would point to Muslim ladies and shout, “Look, mommy, she loves God!” Ross’s Muslim neighbor, upon hearing what she had taught Emma, hugged Ross and said, “I wish that all Americans would teach their children so. The world would be better. The world would be better” (pp. 265-66).

I relate that story here to point out one of the fundamental flaws in the emergent conversation. There seems a distinct unwillingness to actually think about the issues from a biblical, critical point of view. Scripture has taken a back seat to philosophy and sociology. The “conversation” allows all opinions to be given equal weight. It asks many questions (which is good) but gives few answers (which is bad). In this case, the answer given is even the wrong answer.

Does a Muslim woman wear a veil because she loves God? No, of course not. She wears a veil because she follows a religion that has rejected God. That doesn’t mean she ought to be spit on, or killed. That doesn’t mean she should be run out of town with tar and feathers. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk to her. It simply means that she doesn’t love God.

Christ made it clear in John 8 that people who reject Christ reject God. Since the Muslims have rejected Christ, we must conclude that they have rejected God. Orthodoxy, no matter how generous, can conclude nothing else. Once we accept that Muslims love God, we have left the bounds of orthodoxy and entered into heterodoxy.

What our children need to know is that Muslims are people created in the image of God, who deserve our love and respect. They have every right to practice their religion without interference. But our children also need to know that they don’t love God. If they loved God, they would be Christians for they would accept Christ who is God in human flesh, who died to give life to sinners who would come to him.

When McLaren cites this story approvingly, he demonstrates an unwillingness to be biblical. For him, people have become more important than God and his truth. And that is dangerous.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Scripture, BF&M, and the Emergents

The role of Scripture in modern theology and the Christian life has fallen on hard times. Of course, this is nothing new. The Word of God has always been under attack, on the left by neo-orthodoxy, liberalism, and higher criticism, and on the right by the King James Version only proponents. Both sides have distorted the biblical doctrine of inspiration in unconscionable ways.
Two points lay the foundation for my thinking this morning.

First, in the SBC, there has been some recent controversy over the rewriting of the Baptist Faith and Message. The 2000 revision of the 1963 BF&M removed a statement that had been added to the 1925 edition ironically enough. The statement read “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.” While it might sound noble enough, it was an exercise in circular reasoning, as well as the establishment of a “canon within a canon.” It laid the groundwork for the “moderates” of the SBC to deny certain teachings of Scripture (such as teaching on homosexuality, women, etc) since those statements by Paul were incompatible with what Christ said. For them, the words of Christ become the ultimate canon by which everything else in Scripture was interpreted. The SBC moderates were not the first to try such a thing, nor will they be the last. They eventually separated from the SBC over some issues like these.

This statement about “Christ as the criterion” was circular in that it failed to give due credence to the fact that we know nothing about Jesus except for Scripture. They were asserting an impossible hermeneutic since the standard for interpretation first relied the document itself. In reality, there had to be another criterion for interpreting Scripture. Incidentally, it started with the same criterion everyone else uses, namely, “What do the words mean?” From this, they took the words of Jesus as “the really important stuff” and all other words as subject to the words of Jesus. It resulted what amounts to a dual level of inspiration: the words of Paul, James, and others are inspired to a lesser degree than those of Christ since Christ’s words are more important. (It has also resulted in book long treatises about why the words of Paul don’t really mean what they say, but that’s another issue).

Secondly, I came across an emergent blog this morning with a series of articles on Jesus as an emerging pastor. Without interacting in great depth with the whole series (though much could be said, both good and bad), this article’s argument was that “In the era of the Protestant Reformation three realities converged to elevate the Book (the Bible) above the Person (the Christ).” Though this argument stems from a misreading of the reformation, the idea itself stems from a problematic view of Scripture in that it also (like the SBC controversy) fails to recognize that we know nothing about God propositionally except from Scripture. The Bible is the sole source of propositional revelation about the Person.

This author cites John 5 where Christ says, “You diligently search the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” In so doing, he fails to give proper credence to the fact that the Scriptures testified about Jesus. In other words, Jesus was not lowering the value of Scripture relative to himself. He was exalting it, and pointing out that the Scriptures did indeed do the very thing they should—give a proper revelation of Christ. The problem was not that the Pharisees had too high a view of Scripture; it was that their view was too low. They would not accept it.

This author asks, “Would God---Father, Son, and Spirit---cease to exist if every Bible and every form of the Bible (tape, CD, chiselled stone, ancient manuscript, etc.) on the earth vanished? Think about it. Your thoughts and feelings will indicate whether or not you have a relationship with a Book or a Person. Could you maintain a vibrant and growing faith without written words?” The obvious answer is No, God doesn’t cease to exist without Scripture. But even more obvious (one would think) is that we would not know what to believe about God without Scripture. So the answer to “Could you maintain a vibrant and growing faith without written words” is Yes, but not a legitimate faith in God. Those who reject the validity and absolute truthfulness of the written words have substituted faith in God for faith in their own minds and experience. It may indeed be a vibrant and growing faith, but it won’t be a faith that brings salvation because it not a faith grounded in the “word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

In theology, we need a return to a high view of Scripture, one that recognizes its inspiration and inerrancy, one that recognizes that its source is God. The emergents want to argue that Scripture is a story, not propositional truth about God. That is simply a false dichotomy that lowers Scripture from the exalted place that God has given it. The emergents too often outthink themselves, and the results are often not pretty. They have assembled a very “spiritual” group of people, but I fear that there is often no genuine pursuit of God in it. There are certainly some well-meaning people in the emergent movement, and no doubt some genuine followers of Christ. But there is a lot of nonsense in it as well. Oh, that they would recognize the difference.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Bush, Church, and China

I don't normally post twice in one day, much less on a Saturday night before preaching tomorrow, but I was checking the news this evening and came across this article on Fox News about Bush's trip to China.

I suppose that in the world of politics, one must do certain things as a part of protocol, particularly in international politics. But it distresses me to see Bush go to China and attend the state sponsored church. As if that weren't enough, he even praised it. I would rather he not go to church at all, then to go and send the message that everything is A-OK in China. I suppose that there are Christians in the state church, but China is well known for its persecution of an underground evangelical church. Her pastors have been jailed and the churches have been underground for many years. And they don't get much press. I know that Bush is no theologian, and he certainly isn't a national pastor, and we can be thankful for that. However, I hope that he will turn up the heat on the religious persecution that still continues in China.

But what actually caused me to blog this was a theological point, since politics holds less interest for me these days.

Bush is reported to have said, "The spirit of the Lord is very strong inside your church." I have to wonder by standard he judged this. The Spirit of the Lord is known by his fidelity to biblical doctrine, to the gospel with all its implications. Can one really tell in one service in a state sponsored church in a foreign language how strong the Spirit of the Lord is? It seems unlikely to me.

I don't judge Bush's salvation. He gives as clear a testimony as any politician I have heard, I suppose. But I am not sure he has the theological acumen to determine the strength of the Spirit's moving in such a circumstance.

The Spirit's work must first be judged by theological fidelity—Is the message from the Word and in line with the Word? If the message preached is not from the Word and true to the Word, then it is not the work of the Spirit, no matter how eloquent, humorous, practical, motivational, or moving it might be. To try to catch the "wave" of the Spirit's work (as one popular author puts it) is a bit more complicated than simply looking around to see what works. It begins with a prior point: Is this message even true?

The Spirit's work must also be judged by transformation of the heart—Are people's lives being changed by the gospel preached and the Word taught? This is admittedly a more difficult criterion since it can easily be faked, and its genuineness is sometimes hidden. If the Spirit is at work, then lives are being changed on some level. Gathering a crowd isn't necessarily a sign of the Spirit's work and neither is having emotional services, though both of these might be the fruit of the Spirit at work.

What is more important is that we discern the times by careful attention to Scripture. We need not praise the Spirit for something he is not doing.

I recently heard one person comment about a particular concert that he "could really feel the Spirit there." I wondered what exactly that felt like. Perhaps Bush could explain it to us when he returns. Or perhaps not ...

Youth Activities

I sit here in my study room tonight at the church having just watched some teens leave on a youth activity. It has become fashionable among some to beat up on youth activities as being carnal and sinful attractions to the church, while other simply don't see the need. Some say that youth groups are hinderances to the family structure. The criticism is certainly just in some areas, I am sure.

But I am encouraged tonight to see these teens going out, hanging out with mature young Christian adults who will have the next several hours to build relationships with them, have fun with them, model godliness for them, and influence them. I am glad to know that these teens won't spend Saturday night filling their minds with the normal television fare, playing mindless video games, or running through the neighborhood getting in trouble. They won't be telling off color jokes, or listening to them. They will learn that people who are passionate about serving God can enjoy life.

I am glad to see one first time visitor here tonight whose first introduction to church will be a good one. I am glad to see some teens here who have been saved under the ministry of the church recently, and who are demonstrating growth in their spiritual lives. I am glad to see some teens who have started coming to church in the last month or two.

And I am glad we didn't leave it up to the parents because we have not yet been able to reach the parents consistently yet. We will keep working on that.

So while youth ministry needs to be carefully guarded and built on a solid biblical and theological foundation, it needs not be thrown out at the altar of family ... or whatever other altar some might be tempted to sacrifice it to.

There's nothing unbiblical about a group of people getting together to enjoy one another's company in a godly way, and it certainly doesn't become unbiblical when it happens to be a youth activity.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Christ, Culture, and the Church - Part 1

I just finished Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. I have read several books by McLaren and enjoy his writing style. However, his books and the theology and philosophy from which they spring are not as strong as they might be (to be generous in my criticism). There was some thought-provoking material in Generous Orthodoxy and some stuff that just makes you yell out in frustration. More on that later, but on to the point …

One thing that the emergents have tapped into better than the traditionalists, in my opinion, is the interaction with culture. While we might take a different view of culture to some degree, it seems to me that emergents have struck a chord with culture that is worthy of thought for the traditionals. For instance, in a chapter entitled “Why I Am Incarnational,” McLaren laments the fact that missions has often been cultural in nature—an attempt to convert people to a Euro-American lifestyle. I am no expert missiologist, but I find that critique to have some merit, particularly in American Fundamentalism.

I am troubled that fundamentalists, at times, seem to have an unspoken set of cultural values that must be accepted to be truly Christian. As I say, I think it is unspoken and unadmitted and some of you right now are protesting that you have no such set of values. But I can’t help but think it is there and having grown up in fundamentalism with no intention of leaving it, I don’t say that lightly. I say it to provoke our thinking.

Take for instance, our Sunday attire. It is likely that any visit to a fundamentalist church on Sunday morning will find most of the congregation dressed in suits and ties and dresses (hopefully on different people). In fact, I get mailings from one large church in the western US, built (as I understand it) almost entirely on “old fashioned soulwinning” where pictures of the auditorium during services show a high use of technology and a congregation filled with people in suits and ties. Should we really believe that people in southern California just automatically wear suits and ties on the weekend? I would hardly think so. At some point, that became the church culture for them. One Sunday at my church, I was standing welcoming people with a long time member beside me. A couple came in the door who had visited a couple of times from the community. They had no church background of which to speak. On this particular occasion, she had on an outfit of dressy shorts (mid thigh) with a matching jacket. Now, shorts in church on Sunday morning are not my preference to be sure. But the man standing beside me said, “Pretty soon she will realize we don’t dress like that around here.” I was stunned, though I tried to hide it. I said, “Hey, I am just glad she’s here. They need to hear the gospel.” I thought to myself, why would we even think of suggesting a “dress code” for someone to come and hear the gospel. That couple came for a while, and eventually dropped out. I can’t help but think that part of it was because they didn’t “fit in” with a majority of the church.

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with wearing suits and ties and dresses to church (unless you wear them all at once), but think about the message it sends. Look at the people on the platform and those serving in roles such as teachers, ushers, and offering takers. They are the pacesetters of the miniculture of the church. When you are new, and you look around and realize that most if not all of the people do a certain thing, you will feel the pressure to conform to their “culture,” be very bold and buck the “culture,” or just go somewhere else (or stay home). We could multiply this example in a number of areas, about which we might have debate about their legitimacy (body art and piercings; hair styles and lengths; etc.). But the culture is there, and it is an applied culture, often without clear biblical mandate (or unclear biblical mandate for that matter).

What’s the answer? I don’t know. I am concerned about it. I think it differs depending on the particular mini-culture in which one ministers. My thoughts are in development on this, but I throw it out for consideration. I can’t help but wonder if the mandates of Acts 15 and the Jerusalem council don’t fit in here. Perhaps one day I will blog my perspective on this passage, but whatever else it might teach, it certainly teaches that we should place no more on people than certain things. What “things” fit that in 21st century Christianity? Well, perhaps we should give it some more thought.

Whatever the conclusion, we cannot withdraw from culture. They are the people to whom Jesus came, and they are the people to whom Jesus has sent us. God forbid that we withdraw from them because they are not like us. And God forbid that our goal in mission is to make them like us. Let us be satisfied to lead them to be like Jesus.

Back From Silence

I am back from a blogging hiatus. Since the inception of my blog back in the summer, I have been intentional about not blogging every day. Quite frankly, I don’t have enough that is significant to say and my musings on life are simply not that interesting.

But the past few weeks have been particularly busy and exciting for me personally. First, the high school soccer team for which I am an assistant coach with some good friends won the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division IV State Championship. It was an up and down season but an exciting tournament run. The championship game was last Saturday and concluded in a heart stopping fashion with a goal 3:07 into sudden death overtime. The regulation period was scoreless on a bright but cool and windy day. A goal by the other side was called back by offsides. Coaching in the statement tournament is very nerve-racking for me. But it was an exciting run, though it took a lot of time.

Second, this past weekend, I was ordained to the ministry by my church. Friday afternoon at 1:00pm (after a 10:30 am wedding I performed), a council of some pastors and professors from the local area assembled for a two hour doctrinal examination. I was well acquainted with all of them so there was nothing really new about what I believed. For me it was an enjoyable time of interaction and thinking and a great encouragement to have these men on the council. The service was Sunday afternoon and I had the privilege of having Dr. Rolland McCune preach the ordination message. Dr. McCune is an old-timer in fundamentalism whose historical perspective is greatly needed in the discussion about the future of fundamentalism. I have profited greatly from his ministry and writing over the last nine years since I first sat in his apologetics class at 7:30 am on my first morning in seminary. What a way to start ... I have a great respect and affection for Dr. McCune having sat under him in Seminary and was humbled that he would consent to preach for me.

So all in all, the last few weeks have been pretty busy but rewarding. Now, I will return to some more frequent blog entries.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Things That Didn't Work the First Time

In 2 Chronicles 25, we find Amaziah, king of Judah, going to battle against Edom. He originally hired a hundred thousand Israelites (from the Northern Kingdom) to fight with him, but was warned by a prophet that God was not with Israel and their soldiers would cause defeat for Judah. Amaziah heeded this word and sent them home. Then he went out and soundly defeated the Edomites, the sons of Seir, with the help of God.

Inexplicably, after the victory Amaziah took the gods of the defeated Edomites and began to bow down in worship to them. This brought a visit from what was surely a grizzled old prophet who said, “Why have you sought the gods of the people who have not delivered their own people from your hand?” Or to put it more simply, “Why are you worshipping gods who didn’t help the last people who worshipped them?”

It reminds me of much of modern day evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Many are reverting to efforts and methods that didn’t work the first time. These “gods” didn’t help the last people who used them. Why would we think they would help us?

History has shown that the great “new evangelical” promise didn’t work. The church of Jesus Christ is not stronger today than it was sixty years ago. Billy Graham didn’t usher in the kingdom. ECT and the forty year run-up to it did not restore brothers.

Today there is greater confusion than ever about the gospel. There is more theological illiteracy and less discernment. Of course, the confusion about the gospel, theological illiteracy, and lack of discernment has always existed. But today, it exists in the church and not with the newly saved people from whom we should expect it. It exists in people who have been in the church long enough to know better.

Until we quit trying things that didn’t work the first time, there is little hope that anything will improve. We need a return to solid doctrinal preaching, combined with intense personal application that hits people in the face with the implications of the text of Scripture. We need to quit beating around the bush and avoiding people’s toes.

Amaziah’s response to what must have been a crusty old prophet sounds like a page right out of the modern church: “Have we appointed you a royal counselor? Stop.” Today, when someone dares to pipe up about the foolishness of trying to revive past failed methods, they are often greeted with disdain. They are accused of being old fashioned, judgmental, and the like. They are asked, “Who appointed you the judge over us?” The new generation surely knows so much better, don’t they? Surely the problem with the old ways was the attitudes and critical spirits of those who didn’t value unity in the body of Christ. There is no way the failure could rest with anyone else.

Such small-mindedness and historical ignorance will only perpetuate the problems faced by the modern church. God spare us from the failed tactics of the recent past.

$75 Worth of Free

Every now and then I read something that catches my eye and makes me laugh … and wonder if anyone else sees it as I do. Communicating is hard enough without nitpickers like myself. But since I communicate for a living, and since I have a rather twisted sense of humor coupled with a cynicism that perhaps only my brother understands (and shares), I find some things funny that were not intended to be.

Yesterday, I saw and advertisement in a major national magazine (Smithsonian) for a digital camera. One of the selling points was “$75-worth of FREE software & cables.”

It got me to thinking: How much free software do you have to have before you have $75 worth of it???

I know, I know … There is a perfectly valid explanation connected with intent and “worth” and all that … and normal people would read right past it without a second thought. But since I am not normal, it just made me laugh.