Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How to Discern God’s Grace

We often hear statements like “God’s grace was all that got me through that situation.”

But we here from all kinds of people, even from those who show no evidence of God’s grace in their life?

So how do we know when God’s grace has sustained us?

It cannot be when we experience relief from trial or suffering. It cannot be when we feel better about trial or suffering. Many people who wouldn’t know the difference between God and a hole in the ground experience relief from suffering, or feel better in the midst of suffering.

The evidence of God’s grace is that I still believe, even if I am suffering.

So we ask, Did God’s grace sustain me through that trial? Or did I merely by sheer force of will and desire manage to get through it? Outwardly, it will look very similar. Inwardly, it will be very different.

I will know God’s grace has sustained me and is sustaining me when, in the midst of trial and at the end of trial, I still believe that Jesus is my only hope, and I follow him regardless of the cost.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Enns – Inspiration and Incarnation

I recently read completely Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns. (I had previously read parts of it.) This book was the catalyst in Enns’ departure from Westminster Seminary at the behest of the board, although he apparently had the support of the faculty. (You can probably Google it and find the information if you are interested.)

Many others, including D. A. Carson and John Frame, have reviewed it, so I have no desire to do that here. (BTW, if anyone knows where Carson’s review is, please let me know. The links I have found are broken.)

However, let me offer a few brief thoughts on this book that has caused some angst among evangelicals.

Enns does a good job of bringing out some points. He argues that the OT accommodated itself to its readers in certain ways (which no one I know of denies) and gives numerous illustrations. He writes in an easy to read style that makes things fairly simple (which is the great danger … It is intelligible.) He is loaded up with information and documentation. At first glance, without strong theological underpinnings, Enns makes sense. And he makes a good case for humility in our conclusions.

But here’s the rub for me: I think Enns is writing from a very simplistic and limited view of the theological doctrine of inspiration as revelation from God. IMO, Enns essentially denies any meaningful doctrine of inerrancy in bibliology. (I realize I am making some pretty direct statements about a recognized scholar in OT, but I find it hard to draw any other conclusion. How does a robust historical doctrine of bibliology allow for the conclusions that Enns draws?)

He seems to assume that since ANE texts reveal a similarity to the OT, that somehow has implications for the inspiration of the OT that move away from the historic doctrine of inspiration. I disagree. There’s no reason why similarity has a negative impact on the inerrancy or accuracy of the OT. As many have pointed out, the historicity of the worldwide flood should cause us to expect flood accounts in other ancient peoples stories. Why that means that the biblical account is somehow mythical or inaccurate is not clear, nor is it well-founded. In fact, only if the flood was a true world-wide destruction should we expect other accounts. If the flood was merely local, there is less of a reason for parallel accounts since those unaffected by the flood would have little reason to tell the story. Other examples could be cited.

Enns leans heavily on second temple hermeneutics (which is essentially the way that people interpreted the Bible between the restoration of Israel from Babylon in the fifth century B. C. and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70) to argue that the NT writers used the OT in some ways that seem pretty weird to us but were perfectly normal for the first century readers. IMO, he hasn’t made a convincing argument that his conclusions are necessary or even accurate. This section he loads up with illustrations, but doesn’t seem to coherently draw his conclusions from those illustrations. I think this stems from a view of inspiration that is too limited given the biblical data on the subject.

So overall, while I found Enns interesting, I didn’t find him compelling nor particularly credible in some of these matters.

Why did I read Enns? Because as a student with some interest in the OT (and particularly in the early second temple era … Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Zechariah, Haggai, Malachi), this is an idea that is getting some traction outside of its normal liberal habitat. It is working its way into evangelicalism (as evidenced by coming from someone who taught at Westminster for years).

Should you read Enns? No, I think there are better things to do with your time … like read the phone book or count the hairs on your head.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thirteen Ways to Ruin Your Life

Thirteen Ways to Ruin your Life (by Jarrod Jones) is an excellent resource for dealing with sexual temptation and sexual sin. It is an easy reading book, that deals with the issues in a very clear and tactful way.

If you have a “friend” who struggles with sexual temptation, this would be a good way to help him or her out.

At the website, you can order a hard copy, or for the price of a little information, you can download a free .pdf file for personal use on your computer (not for printing).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How’s That?

From an email I got today:

Delta, Northwest Discount International Awards
Free overseas trips are on offer for up to 25 percent less.

Free trips for 25% less? MMMMMM …

(The article is about “buying” award tickets with frequent flyers miles. Tickets for certain overseas routes are being offered for fewer miles than previously … But the article summary was an eyebrow raiser.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Apologetics and Critical Scholarship

Douglas Mangum at Biblia Hebraica offers some thoughts on the intersection of critical scholarship and apologetics (Part 1 and Part 2). I won’t repeat the argument here since you can read his argument for yourself. But let me do two things: 1) give two short definitions, and 2) interact a bit with what seems a false dichotomy.

Two short definitions:

  1. Critical scholarship – A type of scholarship that arose predominantly in the 19th century that reexamined long held beliefs about the inerrancy of the Bible. It generally concludes that the Bible is not inerrant, particularly in matters of history, geography, science, etc., though it may affirm a belief in “limited inerrancy,” that is that the Bible in inerrant (without error) only in matters of faith and doctrine, not necessarily other areas such as history, geography, science, etc.
  2. Apologetics – A defense of the Christian faith.

Mangum’s argument: Many evangelical/conservative arguments against the conclusions of critical scholarship are not based on exegesis and consideration of the evidence. They are, in reality, apologetic arguments to defend a commitment to a particular view of the Bible. Conservative scholars are not really scholars; they are apologists, defending their view of Scripture in spite of the text in many cases, thus taking what would otherwise be clearly an error and harmonizing it to fit it into their view. He argues, in essence, that one cannot be (or at least finds it very hard to be) committed to a particular view of Scripture as inerrant (typically called a “high view of Scripture'”) and still properly use evidence.

Mangum’s examples: Some argue for Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch or the unity of Isaiah based on their view of Scripture, rather than based on the evidence from the Scripture. They argue for an early date of the Exodus (1445 B.C. rather than 12-13th century exodus) based on their view of the Bible rather than based on the evidence from archeology.

My concern with Mangum’s argument: He does not seem to interact in this article with the inseparability of apologetics and exegesis/evidence/argument. We cannot argue from a neutral position (which someone mentions, citing Bultmann that there is no presuppositionless exegesis). All of us are biased.

He does not seem to interact much with the idea that a commitment to inerrancy is not a “theological position;” it is an exegetical position derived from examining the evidence. He references this only briefly in one response (so far as I can tell), and is almost dismissive of it.

If you read Mangum without much thought, I think he makes sense. I don’t think Mangum’s attempt is to undermine Scripture. However, I think he espouses some false dichotomies and some “brush pile theology” that renders him able to make what are some invalid distinctions.

Can we approach Scripture with the values of critical scholarship and still honor what the text says about itself? I think not. If we take seriously the words of the text of Scripture, we must write off much of critical scholarship as misguided error. If we are serious exegetes of the evidence that Scripture gives of itself, we cannot at the same time be critical scholars.

Critical scholars are as much apologists are conservative scholars are. They are simply defending something else.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


So I am preaching last week for Easter on “Everything You Need to Know about Human History.”

Yes, I know, it was a very ambitious undertaking. But good judgment about finding a topic for a time frame has never been a strong suit of mine.

(I once wrote 45 pages for a Systematic Theology paper. My esteemed professor informed that he quit reading after 30 so I better make my point early. Needless to say, there was some major surgery that was done.)

So back to Easter—I was preaching on the theme of “Two Adams.” The idea was to trace human history through Adam and Jesus, to show that one man came into a perfect world and ruined it for us all, and the second came into a ruined world to restore it. One man sinned and brought death, and the other was perfect and brought life.

This is everything we absolutely need to know about human history—I am a sinner without hope because of someone thousands of years ago who did something that I had nothing to do with, and I can have hope because of someone thousands of years ago who did something that I had nothing to do with. Other stuff may be fascinating, interesting, and even helpful. But it won’t solve sin and it won’t make me right with God.

So a couple of days later, a relatively new member of the church called me. He said, “I really liked that message on Sunday. Was that stuff about two Adams actually in the Bible?”

It was at that point that it hit me: In the midst of all the Scripture I read and quoted, I never got to 1 Corinthians 15:45 or Romans 5:12-21. These passages were n my mind. They were the basis for everything I was saying.

I just forgot to say it.

So it reminds me, you can never be too clear about Scripture and you should never take for granted that your audience knows the passage you are referring to.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Piper on Attraction

In part 4 of an interview with Matt Chandler, John Piper makes the following comments in a conversation about the cult of personality, video churches, and the attraction to our churches:

If the attraction to come to your church is your form—that is dress, handsome, articulate, forceful, good music, good stories—if the form becomes the attraction and you know that and you start to work that, that’s wicked.

I have to think this is true from both ends of the spectrum.

Are not the churches with “high standards” who “don’t do entertainment” sometimes just as guilty of using “form” as an attraction as are the seeker churches?

“Come to our church because we don’t have a praise band” seems not all that much different than “Come to our church because we have a praise band.” In neither case is the gospel the attraction.

Should we not give more critical thought to what we lead with?

When “conservative” or “traditional worship” is the first thing people know about your church, or “our pastor wears a suit and tie on Sundays and our girls wear bell-bottom shorts coulottes,” and “We still meet on Sunday nights at the church building,” perhaps there is just as much of a problem as there is with the other end of the spectrum.

If our churches are known predominantly for anything other than the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ, perhaps we are missing the boat. Perhaps we are leading with the wrong thing. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Daisy Cutter Doctrine

Skye Jethani at Out of Ur has an interesting article on church conferences that are always pimping the latest and greatest tactics, presented by motivating speakers who lead large churches (after all, they are successful at the mission). Jethani says,

When Christians with a consumer consciousness try to wrap their imaginations around such a large undertaking [making disciples of all nations], they will automatically think about products or corporations that have impacted the world and emulate the same methodologies. So we ask, how does Coca-Cola impact the world? How does Disney impact the world? How does Starbucks impact the world? And we forget to ask the only question that really matters: How does Jesus impact the world?

He continues,

For example, through much of its history the church in Europe employed conventional (worldly) means to advance its spiritual mission. This resulted in the gospel being spread by the sword. We now look back at the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the slaughter of native peoples in the Americas mournfully. Centuries removed from those atrocities we wonder—how could people do such things in the name of Christ? Did they not see how inconsistent those methods were with the ways of Jesus? At the time, of course, they did not.

Today we consider ourselves more enlightened, but are we? We may not use the sword to advance the church’s mission anymore, but the sword is no longer the conventional instrument of power and influence. Today the church emulates the methods of corporations and business, and most of us never pause and ask whether such tactics are consistent with the ways of Christ. Like the Crusaders, we seem content to leave such judgments for future generations whose vision will be sharpened by history.

Whether Jethani parses the problem just right, or has the right solutions, is up for discussion.

But his comments seem worthy of reflection.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hope For Living

This article will appear in a community newspaper this week.

Difficult circumstances have a way of robbing us of our life and energy. Recent months have brought some almost unbelievable economic conditions, particularly in our local economy. These difficulties are eating away at people’s hope. We face the prospect of losing jobs (if you have not lost it already), losing homes (if you have not lost it already), losing health coverage (if you had it), and losing life savings (however little it may have been). It is a difficult time, to be sure. It is at times like these that we should think about what life is really supposed to be about.

We live in America and most Americans have bought into the hope of the American dream. We think that we would be satisfied if only we have a better job with a bigger paycheck, or a slightly bigger house on a bigger lot somewhere, or a newer car, or a bigger flat-screen television. But will these things really satisfy?

Jesus once told a story about a man who had a lot of stuff. He was a very rich man. One year, his business did particularly well. In fact, it did so well that his warehouses were not big enough to store everything he had. So he tore down those warehouses and built bigger ones and said to himself, “Take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry.”

And then he died and faced God’s judgment of his life.

And what good did his money do him? He had left it all behind (Luke 12:15–21).

When Jesus told this story, he was not condemning the rich and he was not exalting the poor. Jesus had an entirely different point. He put it this way: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Jesus was trying to get people to see that there is something far more important than money, houses, and businesses, and that is God himself. Life is ultimately about God. When we die, we will all answer to him for how we have lived, and all our possessions cannot help us then because we will have left them behind.

When Jesus walked on earth, his life on earth was not about gaining possessions, surviving in difficult economic times, or making sure he got his piece of the pie. The apostle Paul described Jesus’ life this way: “Though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). The riches that Jesus offers to us cannot be measured in the dollars of your paycheck, the square footage of your house, or the size of your pension. Jesus offers riches that can only be measured in terms of eternal life in heaven.

The riches of heaven are closed to us because of our sin against God. But Jesus has opened heaven back up to us by living the perfect life that you should have lived and dying the death that you should have died.

Your money cannot buy these riches for you. You do not have enough. Your good works cannot earn you these riches. You are not good enough. Only Jesus is good enough, and he came to share his riches with us by dying for us. He promises that if you will turn to him and trust in him for salvation from sin, he will give you all the riches of heaven to worship and serve him for all eternity.

These are the only kind of riches that can bring true satisfaction. You will not find it on this earth. But the riches that Jesus alone gives will last far longer and bring far more satisfaction than anything this earth has to offer. And that is what gives us hope for living.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Things Thought Important

Ed Stetzer relays some of the data from a recent Lifeway survey of Southern Baptist pastors about what they think is important in ministry.

Preaching/Proclamation garnered 10% of the vote, which was good for fourth place. It came in behind evangelism/outreach (24%), Sunday school/Bible study/small groups (17%), and worship and worship services (13%), and just in front of children’s/student ministry (9%).

In a question looking for the “top five ministries that are critical to the mission, future health and progress of our church,” preaching/proclamation/teaching was listed only by 20%. That was eighth out of nine. Interestingly, it was followed only by prayer/prayer ministry/prayer groups.

[Sidenote: One is led to wonder of the HCSB omitted Acts 6:4 about devoting ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.]

The devaluation of preaching the word is nothing new. It has been unpopular for a long time. But it used to be unpopular primarily among those outside the church and some of the congregation. Now it is apparently getting unpopular among the pastors as well.

Yesterday I was listening to a message by Mark Dever on pastors where he affirms that the main job of a pastor is that of preaching the word.

Somehow, Dever seems closer to the biblical teaching than the survey respondents do.

I must confess some “category interest.” Why is “preaching/proclamation/teaching” separate from “Evangelism/outreach” or “Sunday school/small groups/Bible study” or “discipleship/spiritual growth/mentoring/counseling”? In fact, why is it different than “worship and specific worship services”?

Do these categories reveal some approaches to ministry that are, in and of themselves, unhealthy and unhelpful? I think they might.

Perhaps this is indicative of why churches are spiritual anemic and biblically illiterate.

Owen on the Full Pursuit of Holiness

In his little book Of Temptation, in a section on “deceitful assistances” in fighting against sin, ODG John Owen warns about

The most vigorous actings, by prayer, fasting, and other such means, against that particular lust , corruption, temptation, wherewith you are exercised and have to do. This will not avail you if, in the meantime, there be neglects on other accounts. To hear a man wrestle, cry, contend as to any particular of temptation, and immediately fall into worldly ways, worldly compliances, looseness, and negligence in other things, — it is righteous with Jesus Christ to leave such a one to the hour of temptation (John Owen, Of Temptation (Joseph Kreifels), pp. 147-48).

It is overwhelming, to me at least, to think of fighting all sin at once. It is too easy to let the “little sins,” or some private sins, go unchallenged while we focus on the “biggies.”

Owen says that to do such is a deceitful assistance, to imagine that we can address sin on one part of our lives while neglecting the sin in other parts.

Perhaps Owen is given to some hyperbole here, but his point should be given careful consideration. Sin is not an all or nothing proposition. It will take whatever it can get from us.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Everything That Is Not God

1 Peter has an overriding theme of suffering. In both 1 Peter 1:6 and 1 Peter 4:12, Peter refers to suffering in terms of a fire. I imagine that this is a common metaphor in cultures throughout time, all the way was back to OT times.

Just as fire burns away perishable stuff, so testing in our lives strips away everything about our faith that is not God.

When circumstances take our money and we get upset, we find that our satisfaction was not God alone. It was God plus money.

When our physical health declines and we get upset, we learn that God was not enough for us. We believed in God plus physical health.

When our marriages suffer, or our family goes astray, we find that God was not enough. It was God plus …

And when, in the midst of suffering, we turn away from God, we are demonstrating that the gospel we believe is really a prosperity gospel—a gospel that says, “I will trust God because he gives me comfort/money/health/good marriage/insert your own.” We think Jesus died to make us comfortable/rich/healthy/satisfied in marriage.

Thus, suffering is often God’s way of showing us what we really believe. It shows us how much more than God we think we must have.

In the fire of suffering, God is burning up everything that is not God in order to create a more genuine faith that is satisfied in God alone.

The truth is that we can live with a lot less than we have. But we cannot live without God.

So when God takes it, it’s okay, because it wasn’t yours anyway (he gave it to you), and you don’t need it (he is enough for you).

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

In the Diner

Pretty quiet this morning.

Mr. Wilson asked me about an article I am writing for the local paper. It’s done. But I keep forgetting to print it out to give it to him. Hopefully it will be a good presentation of the gospel that might be used by God to reach some people.

And Billy Joel is on the radio singing an appropriate anthem for modernity, including Christianity.

I don’t need you to worry for me ‘cause I’m alright.

I don’t want to you tell me it’s time to come home.

I don’t care what you say anymore this is my life.

Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.

Many Christians have decided that their individual soul liberty should be individual sole liberty. They think that no one else has any right to speak into their lives. Oh, if you try, they will listen politely for a while. But they will leave, convinced that they are right, and that they do not need your advice. After all, they think, if you knew what they knew, you would see it their way.

They want the church because it salves their conscience on the weekend. They do not want the fellowship—the sharing of life—that comes along with it.

What a lack of humility it requires to refuse to listen to fellow believers. It denies the work of God through the body of believers. It denies that God may be at work in someone else’s life to teach them things that they in turn can teach you. And it denies them their place of ministry in the lives of fellow believers.

In an age of independence, we need to recover the biblical ideals of true fellowship that allows others to speak into our lives, and we must receive such messages with humble graciousness, grateful to God that he has placed us in a body of imperfect people who care about other imperfect people. They might be wrong when they speak into your life. But they deserve a thoughtful and discerning hearing.

It isn’t your life, not even if you write a really cool sounding song about it.

It belongs to God, and he has placed people in your life through the church that he intends to use to help grow you, to set you apart from a hostile world (which is what “sanctification” means).

We need to learn to have a “humble mind” toward other believers, not just to serve them, but to let them serve us, even when it gets personal.