Monday, April 30, 2007

On Conferences

Every now and then I attend a pastor's conference of some sort. I usually pick ones that are outside of my normal circle of influence because I want to be exposed to something that will make me think and interact with ideas that I may not have come across elsewhere. Of course, I know some think you should only go to "fundamental conferences." And some give you "the look" when they hear where you went. (I got "the look" recently ... at least I think I did.)

I attended such a conference this past week which proved to be interesting. The track I was in was a less than I expected. It was pretty "bottom level" stuff that perhaps would be good for someone who has little exposure to ministry. There were other tracks that I would have rather taken, if I had been given the opportunity. The interaction with other pastors was enlightening however. And enjoyable.

The best presentations were one on small groups and one on evangelism. They both tended towards the "nuts and bolts" end of things, which was helpful. Quite frankly, I am not all that interested in picking up theology at most of these conferences. I am more interested in picking up ideas and more importantly, seeing how other places do things.

Here's the danger of these kinds of conferences: They can lead to franchising the church. I think I have mentioned that elsewhere (though perhaps I meant to and never got around to it). Making hamburgers is the same in every city. Building churches is not.

A "best practices" kind of conference is dangerous because what is a "best practice" in one place or culture might not be in another. Furthermore, best practices are focused too often on pragmatism. "We did it and grew to 56,000 members in just five weeks" is not a good warrant for adopting a technique. For a church planter or pastor to try to wholesale implement somenoe else's vision or technique could be very damaging.

It also may tends towards self-reliance or organizational reliance rather than Spirit dependence. Such an approach may draw a crowd, but it will have a hard time building a church.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the two days was listening to these men defend their view of elder government. Trying to figure out the distinctions drawn between kinds of elders and whether or not they are on the elder board or not was ... well ... confusing. If I will be persuaded to elder rule, it will take a great deal more than was offered in these conversations.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


The Democratic presidential contenders will meet tonight in a debate at South Carolina State University, sponsored by MSNBC. Recently, some of these same same contenders refused to participate in debates sponsored by Fox News.

Why is this strange? Because South Carolina State U (a historically black college that gets public money) recently did something Fox News has never done. SCSU tolerated the use of the N-word more than 100 times in a recent concert on the campus. To my knowledge, Fox News has never tolerated the use of the word in any context.

Why would these Democratic contenders turn down a Fox sponsored debate while appearing at SCSU? Perhaps because they care more about politics than race and racial epithets. Fox is seen as a conservative news channel (though I dare anyone to suggest that Sean Hannity is more conservative the Keith Olberman is liberal). By appearing in a Fox sponsored debate, they fear they would be seen as giving into Fox's perspective and giving Fox credibility. But somehow, when racial epithets are involved, it's less important because it's MSNBC and not Fox. It seems shameful and hypocritical to me.

Don't get me wrong. The Republicans are hardly saints. In six years of a Republican White House and Congress, spending grew at what seems unprecedented rates, as did government bureaucracy. Corruption in government continues (cf. Duke Cunningham, Peter Abramoff, et al). And abortion continues unabated with the exception of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban which is a tiny step in the right direction. In a world of hypocrites, Republicans have little high ground.

But let's face it: If the repeated use of a racial epithet is not enough to drive you away from a debate site, why is being sponsored by Fox News enough to drive you away? Because politics is more important than racial justice.

Shame on all eleven of these contenders, not because they are liberal politicians, but because they have not spoken up on this travesty.

It will be interesting if any of these eleven do what many said George Bush should have done six years ago when speaking at Bob Jones U. They said Bush should have spoken out about the institution's policy of race and religious differences. Will any of these eleven speak out about SCSU's policy of tolerating and thereby encouraging the repeated use of racial epithets?

Don't hold your breath.

Friday, April 20, 2007

On Faith, God, and Heaven by John Walton

I have quoted from John Walton's volume on Genesis (NIVAC) before. He has some interesting (read: strange) views on some things in Genesis. However, the section cited here is one of his thought-provoking sections. It is not a perfect paragraph, but does have some food for thought in it. It is from page 469.

What does our salvation cost us? Nothing. What does our faith cost us? Everything. We are saved by grace alone, but as Christians we live by faith.

I suggest that we must be defined not by our salvation but by our faith. The “Lordship Salvation” debate is frustrating because sometimes proponents on both sides make it sound as if “salvation” is the reason for our faith. That cannot be right. Salvation is a benefit of our faith gained by the grace of God; God is the reason for our faith. It is foolish to dwell on whether we have to ilve a responsive life of faith in order to go to heaven. When will we realize how less important heaven is than God? How can we possibly feel good about gaining heaven if in the process we do not give ourselves to God? For some, eternity is nothing more than a selfish pursuit born of a fear of death or hell, and living for God is too much trouble. Let us hope that God does not grant their wish by leaving them alone. If he did, they would find to their dismay that if heaven were filled only with themselves, it would be little better than hell. They would languish in the vacuum.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

On Lists, the Atonement, and Worship

I like lists. They are are helpful in that they are able to boil down concepts and ideas into manageable propositions that serve as pegs on which to hang thoughts.

I do not like lists. They tend to simplify and sometimes trivialize ideas that cannot really be contained in a single sentence.

In other words, a simple phrase or sentence can help to summarize, but it can also oversimplify. My post of last week on ten reasons why Jesus had to die is an example of my like and dislike. Each point served to summarize the Bible's teaching in a concise way. At the same time, each point could have a book written about it, or at least a chapter.

So lists can be helpful, if we recognize their benefits and limitations.

I say all that to say this: I found a blogger who likes lists. A few titles caught my eye. So I read them.

There was a list of Ten Propositions on Penal Substitution. It seems to me to be a distillation of emergent objections to the penal substitutionary model of the atonement (most of which seem to be repackaged liberalism or neo-orthodoxy of past eras).

In this list he says (emphasis his),
If the doctrine of penal substitution is to have any place in contemporary soteriology, there are certain elements of its demotic form that have to be eliminated: especially the notion that Jesus died to placate or appease God, or to secure a change in God’s attitude, or to settle a score or balance the books – and, indeed, the notion that the cross is itself a divine punishment." ...

I repeat: God does not punish Jesus, or even will the death of Jesus tout court.
If my understanding of Scripture is correct, both of these propositions contain explicit denials of Christian truth. They are radically unChristian. From the OT to the NT, it is clear that God "predetermined" the death of Jesus and it was precisely to satisfy his just and holy wrath against sin. Jesus bore the wrath that our sin brought. He bore our curse by hanging on a tree so that we, through faith, would not have to bear the curse, but could instead bear his righteousness.

While the atonement may be more than penal substitution, it is most certainly not less. And redefining penal substitution (as this list attempts to do) will hardly satisfy the biblical data, or the person committed to a truly biblical theology.

To say that the suffering of Jesus was not to satisfy God's just wrath is, to my way of thinking, divine child abuse (as some had claimed about penal substitution). Dying a brutal death is a high-priced example. If God the Father subjected Jesus to death (and he most certainly did as Isaiah 53 tells us) simply to give an example (or some other of the multitude avoidances of penal substitution), he is a very cruel God, capricious and inconsiderate. If, however, he did it to satisfy his wrath on sin, he shows himself to be immeasurably just, loving, and worthy of worship. I think I would find it hard to worship God if penal substitution is not true. The more I meditate on the cross, the more worth of worship God appears.

In response to this, the Boar's Head Tavern says,
Something that occasionally bothers me about the way the atonement is often spoken of in Reformed circles is the way it tends to reduce the Incarnation to something God has to do to forgive sinners, as if it were on the divine to-do list or operating procedures, and forgiveness and salvation occur only when God ticks off the right boxes in order.
Is not this statement a denial of the idea of the consequent absolute necessity of the atonement (and incarnation)? Can we really entertain the notion that God could have forgiven sinners without the incarnation? Or that the incarnation was a "post Genesis 3" reaction? Who was going to be a sufficient sacrifice without the Incarnate Word?

Even the testimony of Hebrews that "the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin" (Hebrews 10:4; Hebrews 10:11) testifies to the wrongheadedness of BHT's reaction. God did have to incarnate to forgive sin. Only through someone who could "touch us both" (in the words of Job) could sin be forgiven. That is why Paul testifies that "There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).

Which leads me to conclude: Perhaps people's problems with the atonement is a fundamental misunderstanding of God's holiness. If God is not really holy, then there is no need for a penal substitution. If God is like we are, who can simply choose to ignore sin, then indeed penal substitution is objectionable. If, however, we understand the radical and total holiness of God, is not penal substitution the only just avenue of forgiveness and grace?

Back to the lists. In another post, he does have a more interesting statement. In 9.5 Theses on Listening to Preaching, he states,
Every act of worship is a funeral. In the sermon the preacher hereby notifies the congregation that it is dead and buried – an ex-people. This is not a metaphor, this is our reality coram Deo. Listen to the sermon as if it were your own obituary: it is. Judgement is now.
Perhaps a key thought of preaching should be the constant reminder that we are dead—dead to sin and self. Worship is not about us and fulfilling our desires. It is not primarily about meeting our needs (though biblical worship will certainly do that since one of our innate needs is a need to worship; it is most often directed at the wrong object). If we remember that we are dead, we can be free to worship biblically rather than humanistically.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Why Jesus Had To Die

1. To fulfill Scripture
  • John 13:18 I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, 'HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.'
  • John 19:24 So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be"; this was to fulfill the Scripture: "THEY DIVIDED MY OUTER GARMENTS AMONG THEM, AND FOR MY CLOTHING THEY CAST LOTS."
  • John 19:28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, "I am thirsty."
  • John 19:36-37 For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, "NOT A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN." 37 And again another Scripture says, "THEY SHALL LOOK ON HIM WHOM THEY PIERCED."
2. To please the Father
  • Isaiah 53:10 But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
  • John 8:28-29 So Jesus said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. 29 "And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him."

3. To magnify both the love of God and the justice of God.

  • Romans 3:24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
  • Rom 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us
  • John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

4. To justify sinners who believe

  • Romans 5:9-10 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
  • Romans 3:23-25 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.

5. To bear the penalty of sin

  • John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
  • 1 Peter 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

6. To deliver from wrath

  • 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.
  • Romans 5:9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.

7. To rise again

  • Matthew 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.

8. To conquer death

  • Hebrews 2:14-15 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

9. To help the helpless

  • Romans 5:6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
  • Galatians 2:21 "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly."
  • Ephesians 2:12-13 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

10. To show forth the glory of God

  • 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Selling Addiction

It used to be that the addictive properties of certain things (like nicotine) were hidden. After all, the manufacturers did not want you to know what you were getting yourself into. Now it appears the Madison Avenue types are taking a bolder approach: Just tell them up front that you are going to own their lives. Lest you think I am making this up, read for yourself from this advertisement for a video game.
Guitar Hero gives you all the excitement and thrill of being a rock star without leaving your home!! Guitar Hero features explosively addictive gameplay from the award-winning game developer Harmonix (the creators of Karaoke Revolution and Anti-Grav).Choose from multiple rock characters and jam at concert venues that grow in size as your rock career progresses! You’ll start your rock career playing small clubs and bars, but if you play well you’ll work your way up to stadiums and arenas.The songs in Guitar Hero are straight out of a rock fan’s CD or record collection. Over 30 incredible rock anthems fill every stage of the game. Jam to songs like Iron Man, Ziggy Stardust, Thunderkiss 65, More Than a Feeling, Take Me Out, and I Wanna Be Sedated!
Wow! What parent would not want to buy this for their budding rock star. (Yes, I see that hand; is there another? Yes, up in the balcony ... and over here on my left. We'll wait just a minute more ...)

This brings to my mind a few things that are wrong with our culture. (Judgmental elitism warning. Read on at your own peril ... or mine.)

1. Karaoke ... Only in a world with a total fascination with stardom and an almost complete lack of cultural sophistication can it be considered good to be able to try to sound just like your favorite star while singing to a sound track in front of people who don't know you and who are probably laughing at you. Fun? Sure, I guess. Much in the same way that it's fun being the only one not to know that your pants have a hole in the backside.

Of course, churches have been practicing karaoke for years. No need to tax the pianist by asking her (or him) to learn a song and meet with you for practice. Just throw the tape CD in the system and remind the church body of everything you do not have in your music department. They can close their eyes (along with you) and imagine the band. And you can hope that the technology does not break down. Be Sandi Patti for a day ... or five minutes anyway. Or Larnelle Harris. (Is that too dated?) If you play your cards right, you might turn it into a repeat performance for the second service. Or a chance at "The Greatest Karaoke Show on Earth" (my apologies to Barnum and Bailey). In my opinion, if you want to sing to a guitar, then learn to play one, or find a friend that knows how.

Of course, I am not against karaoke. But for all of our sakes, please do it in your car with the windows rolled up where no one can hear you. You will look funny to the guy beside you at the stop light. But at least we will know you are socially sensible enough not to foist your lack of talent and creativity on an unsuspecting group of idlers.

2. Self-proclaimed stardom ... I a reminded of someone who recently became somewhat of a public figure in the music world who proclaimed on his now defunct blog that he was a Christian and a rock star. I wondered to myself, "If you have to self-proclaim your rock star status, do you actually have it?" I have always been of the opinion that stardom is something someone else gives you rather than something you claim for yourself. And my understanding is that most actual stars would rather not have it since it greatly inconveniences everything except staying at home alone.

Not to mention the seemingly incompatibility of Christianity and stardom. Can you imagine Charles Spurgeon making the claim to be a "preaching star"? Or George Whitefield claiming "evangelism stardom"? Somehow, something about "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus" does not seem to fit with "I am a Christian and rock star and if you don't like it, I feel sorry for you."

Now, through the magic of technology in Guitar Hero you can be a rock star to exactly no one except yourself. Your adoring fans are avatar-like creatures that exist in a chip smaller than the size of your finger. The upside is that they will not fill your inbox with junk mail and spam. These fans will roar loudly (until your mom tells you to turn the volume down).

3. Adults who play video games ... I am not talking about the "passing the time" video games like Solitaire or Freecell (very helpful while you are on the phone ... yes that is what I was doing last time I was talking to you). And I am not talking about dads who play games with their kids (though
might I be so bold as to suggest that kids would be better served with less video game playing and more of just about anything else ... particularly if it involves their dad without a remote control in his hand). I am talking about grown men who spend hours playing the latest incarnation of Madden football or some such game. These are the same people who have not read a complete book since ... well ... who knows. But they can run up the score on XBox 360 or PS2 or whatever is out now.

I advertised a laptop for sale the other day on an online site. A guy emailed me to ask if I was interested in trading for an XBox 360. I thought to myself, "Why in the world would someone think that I would trade an actual computer for a game?" I tried to be as kind as possible by saying "Thanks but no." Hopefully, I was not too overboard.

4. Sleepless nights ... Need I say more?