Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What I Should Have Said

I recently had a conversation about the gospel with someone who was objecting to the idea that God would send someone to hell simply for being born into a Jewish family or a Hindu family where their religious views were inherited from their family.

I tried to explain that all people know about God and were without excuse. I tried to explain that no one is perfect like God and therefore all were worthy of judgment.

I should have said, “How do you know God would send someone to hell simply for being born into the wrong family?” Or “Why do you believe God would send someone to hell simply for being born into the wrong family?”

This would question the limits of his knowledge and what he was willing to accept as authority.

You see, he was appealing to God’s love as the basis for his rejection of God’s sending people to hell.

But perhaps I should have argued that since God is love, and since he does send Jews and Hindus (and anyone who does not accept Christ as Savior) to hell, there must be a reason other than simply being born into a certain family. And he simply doesn’t know enough to know what that reason is.

Of course, I know that. But he is not yet prepared to see past his current point of reference.

And I know you can’t argue people into salvation. But you never know what God might use to open their minds to truth.

Pray for him. He has his first child on the way and is concerned about raising it (he doesn’t know what it is yet).

Maybe next time …

Monday, June 29, 2009

This and That

Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Monica Conyers traded an $81,000 a year job (plus a city-owned car) for $6000 in bribes. With people whose math skills (and character) see that trade as making sense, it is no wonder that the Detroit is deep trouble financially. I bet this scandal goes pretty deep. Look for KK to be back from TX before it’s all over. I don’t know that I have ever seen a ruder, more socially inept person than MonCon. Of course maybe calling the council president “Shrek” takes place in cities other than Detroit.

What good does it do to sentence a 71 year old man to 150 years in prison? Isn’t that a bit of style over substance? Why not twenty years or thirty? Perhaps it is the world of feel-goodism. We feel better about things even when they make no difference. It is the emotional pound of flesh we are after.

The Tigers are in first place, and I am predicting they will be there at the All-Star break. Don’t hold your breath for October baseball in Detroit though. Zumaya and Rodney are too scary for that. On the other hand, Verlander and Jackson are scary the other way. Hold on to your rally caps, and hope it doesn’t come down to late innings very often.

I like the Lion’s chance this year. I think they will be able to suit up with the best of them. They should be in every game right up until kick-off. There were some photos of mini-camp recently, and I thought they look tough. Some were even sweating.

Seriously, I think the Lions will be better than most people think. Don’t expect the 06 Tigers or the 09 Dolphins or Falcons. But look for 6-8 wins. And come December, remember you heard it here in June.

Interesting …

It is interesting how people publicly expose that they missed the point by writing a blog post about something that demonstrates they missed the point.

Hint: If you don’t get the point, at least shut your computer off so the whole world won’t know that you don’t get it. And by all means don’t follow up with more evidence that you missed the point.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Two in One Day

Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett both died today.

What must it be like to come to the end of your life and enter eternity with that kind of resume?

Sanford and Sons

Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina has recently confessed publicly to an adulterous relationship with a married woman from Argentina. Several things strike me in reading the stories and watching the news conference.

First, I didn’t keep track, but it seemed that every time his family came up, his sons were mentioned first. Here’s news, Governor: Your sons are not the most important person in your family. Your wife is. The fact that your wife seemed to consistently come in second place may have been unintentional, but it may reveal more than you intended it to. And it may be the reason you did what you did. She was not important enough to you. And God certainly was not important enough to you. Dads, the most important thing you can do for your sons is to love their mother first, love her more than them, and love because of the gospel. (Same thing with you ladies.)

Second, Sanford says this relationship started eight years ago when he met this woman, and ironically was telling her she needed to stay with her husband for the sake of her two boys. Again, you see that Sanford has missed the point of staying in a marriage. And you also see why men and women should not talk to members of the opposite sex about their marital problems. Even the talk of such problems removes walls that should not be removed. Even pastors, or especially pastors, are not immune to this danger.

Third, emails (particularly private emails) with members of the opposite sex are generally a bad idea. Email should be transparent to your spouse or to other accountability partners. There is no reason for you to have an email account, a facebook page, or a myspace page (or any other social networking site) that your spouse does not know about and does not have complete access to  whenever they want it. Computers have made the world smaller and have invited more inappropriate intimacy. Computers make things easy to hide. Same thing with cell phones by the way. Keep it open and transparent.

Fourth, when you are involved in an immoral relationship, you don’t need to spend five days in Argentina to break it off. You can say, “We’re done, don’t ever contact me again,” without the cost of a plane ticket. You don’t need to do it in person. Pick up the phone with your spouse in the room, and call. It will take one minute and it will be transparent. Don’t drag it out. There are no need for explanations. You don’t need to talk it through. You need to be done and never, under any circumstances, have any contact with the person again, if possible. If it is a co-worker, it’s probably time to look for a new job. If it is a neighbor, it is probably time to move. Change your cell phone number if you need to. Harsh? Perhaps. But to do less is asking for a repeat.

If all you have done so far is exchange emails, then just stop. You don’t need to reply. Cancel your email account and be done. Don’t send an explanatory “break-up” email. Just stop. If you have progressed to phone calls or physical meetings, more will probably be necessary. Yes, you face the possible ire of a lovers-scorned, but that’s the consequences you invited when you made the choice. You made the bed (literally); and now you have to lie in it.

Fifth, realize that adultery and immorality is not ultimately about sex. It’s about the heart. When you fail to guard your heart, you will look for love in all in the wrong places. And you will usually find it.

And in the end, it will cost you everything you have, and more.

Spend some time regularly in Proverbs 5-7. Guard your heart with all diligence. And teach your sons not to collect the moral junk of this world and stack it around the yard and house of their mind. Teach them Proverbs 5-7, not just be word, but by life.

The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense;
He who would destroy himself does it.
Wounds and disgrace he will find,
And his reproach will not be blotted out
(Proverbs 6:32-33)

Now therefore, my sons, listen to me,
And pay attention to the words of my mouth. 
Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways,
Do not stray into her paths. 
For many are the victims she has cast down,
And numerous are all her slain. 
Her house is the way to Sheol,
Descending to the chambers of death
(Proverbs 7:24-27)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Gospel and the Faith

I am meditating this morning on Jude 3, and the distinction that Jude seems to make between “our common salvation” and “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

Assuming that our “common salvation” is tied directly to the gospel and “the faith” is distinct from that (since Jude says “I want to write about the one but I find it necessary to write about the other”), it seems that Jude is saying that there are issues other than the gospel that are worth earnestly contending for.

It is furthermore interesting that in Jude’s discussion of the “persons who have crept in unaware” he does not focus on their doctrine or teaching. In fact, very little (i.e., nothing directly) is said about that. He focuses more on their character, their motivations, and the methodologies.

Today, it is frequent even among fundamentalists to talk about a “center bounded set” by which is meant “We agree on the gospel as the center of fellowship and not necessarily on things that are not at the center.” This statement is often followed up with “If they teach right things, it doesn’t matter so much what they do.”

Yet Jude seems to say that there are things in the “faith delivered” that need to be earnestly contended for that are not related to “our common salvation,” and that are not even related directly to what is said, but rather to how the person lives and how the message is communicated out of that life.

No doubt, Jude could have documented the false teachings, but he did not.

Perhaps this should be instructive for us in constructing a theology of contention.

The gospel is important. But it is not the only thing that is important. There are other things worth fighting about when they are attacked or denied, and character, motivation, and methodology are among them.

This is not to say that all things are equally important. It is to say however that a center-bounded fellowship is insufficient for true Christian fellowship. There are other things that matter.

Some are eager to talk about our common salvation, but are unwilling to earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered in its totality, including the character, motivations, and methods of others.

As people of the faith, we must be careful about contending for too little. It’s just as dangerous as contending for too much.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Doctrine and Comfort

It has apparently been asked,

“Are you comfortable with Particular redemption/limited atonement? Or the Westminster Confession of Faith statement that supports predestination to damnation? Or Reformer Beza’s assertion that the unsaved in hell are there for the glory of God?”

I have to ask, Why is our comfort relevant to a doctrinal discussion? What type of thinking is it that relegates doctrine to personal comfort?

Quite frankly, I am uncomfortable with a lot of things I am convinced the Bible teaches. But I believe them because I believe the Bible teaches them. My comfort level is my problem. It is the result of the noetic affects of sin that corrupts my thinking. It is answered only by the illumination of the Spirit to the truths of Scripture. On matters of conscience, we can certainly appeal to comfort. But on matters of revealed doctrine? That seems a little out of place.

And what is the alternative to the unsaved in hell being there for the glory of God? That God sends them there in spite of his glory? That  it doesn’t glorify God to justly punish sin against him? That there was a better way (i.e., more glorifying way) to punish sin than eternal hell?

I admit to being a few french fries short of a happy meal sometimes, so feel free to instruct me here.

Once again, I think this is just a bad argument, one that has no place in the discussion.

Say What? Ordo Salutis Edition

It is reported that someone recently said: “No offense, but there is no ordo salutis in John 6; but there is ‘believe.’”

It leaves me wondering about John 6:40:

This is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."

Does it seem clear that belief precedes glorification? This is why most ordos have belief prior to glorification.

What about John 6:44:

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

Assuming that “come” is virtually synonymous with “believe” (as vv. 35, 37 seem to make clear, and I can’t imagine anyone would disagree, though I have been accused of having a weak imagination), isn’t it clear that drawing of the Father precedes belief, and belief precedes glorification. So here we have drawing, belief, glorification. That, my friends, is an ordo salutis.

What about John 6:65:

And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

Not to be pedantic with the text, but isn’t it clear that “coming” (see above) comes after the “granting”?

If the above comment that started this post is a proper representation of what was said, perhaps we have another reason why some are dissatisfied with institutional fundamentalism: Too many of them preach in spite of the text, and not because of it. They preach whatever they believe, and the text becomes a prop for it. They will easily gloss or ignore whatever does not make their point, or whatever makes it weaker.

Define coming, drawing, giving, belief, granting however you will. It is impossible to say that John 6 has no ordo salutis.

Wait, I take that back. It is obviously possible to say it.

Perhaps the greatest need in fundamentalism is a revival of studying the Word itself.

Say What?

This is the type of weird stuff that some put forth as teaching:

Fundamentalism traditionally demands a strict moral code when it comes to engaging media. Holiness and a consistent witness notwithstanding, a hard-line "don't taste, don't touch" ethic would seem to dictate that 95 percent of the Bible is inappropriate for daily devotions. For some reason, when we put the same kind of mature subject matter that appears in the very pages of Scripture into a song and discerningly engage with it, it suddenly becomes a moral issue.

It doesn’t interact (or seem to even understand) what fundamentalism actually says, nor does it interact with the reasons that fundamentalism says what it says.

To suggest that fundamentalism believes that 95% of the Bible is inappropriate for daily devotions is, quite frankly, absurd. Furthermore, to suggest that the “mature subject matter” of the Bible is dealt with in popular music the way it is dealt with in the Bible, is past absurd.

Why do people say these kinds of things? And why do people accept this?

This is the type of stuff that masquerades as serious reflection on the believer and modern culture.

While we might disagree on the particular nature and extent of the believer’s use of and involvement in modern culture, surely we can all agree that this type of argument demonstrated above is completely useless since it is uninformed, unthinking, and therefore unhelpful (aside from helping to demonstrate how not to make an argument).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On Bad Arguments Against Pre-Tribulationism

Graeme Goldsworthy in Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (a rather unnotable book) says,

It would be difficult on the basis of Old Testament texts alone to arrive at this structure of two coming with the overlap of the ages between them (p. 224).

No, that’s not the bad argument. He is exactly right.

But how many times as someone argued against a pre-tribulation rapture because “no NT texts says that Christ is coming twice.”

I object to that argument on several grounds.

  1. I don’t think most dispensationalists would grant that the pre-tribulation rapture means Christ is coming back twice. I think most would say the Rapture and the Second Coming are two aspects of the same coming. (I could be wrong about that.)
  2. I don’t grant that the NT does not make any distinction between the Rapture and the Second Coming. I think it does, exegetically, if you don’t start with a presupposition against it.
  3. Their own argument works against them because, as Goldsworthy admits, the OT does not speak of two comings, and yet we know there are two. How much more will we know in the future that will cause us to look back and see what Jesus meant (cf. John 2:22 where Jesus prophecy of his own resurrection made no sense until after he had arisen).

In short, there may be valid arguments against pre-tribulationalism. I am okay with someone making valid arguments against anything. But by all means, don’t make bad ones.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In the Diner

I am sitting here this morning listen to Jimmy Buffet sing about Margaritaville which made me start thinkin’ about drinkin’.

This coincides with my preparation for Sunday’s message on Matthew 6:13 praying for God to not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil.

I will start with my conclusion: I am totally opposed to the use of alcohol (unless you have a cough or are preparing your arm for a shot). If someone asks me, I will tell them I do not think they should drink.

I think drinking is silly. I see no useful purpose for it, particularly given the variety of beverage options available to us today.

I think drinking is dangerous. I know many people drink moderately with no discernible affect on their lives (at least yet). They control it. I know that wine is like women, allegedly according to Luther. I have probably seen most of the arguments in favor of the beverage use of alcohol. And I agree with most of them.*  And I still think it is silly to drink.

I have seen the affects of drinking on personal lives, on families, on communities. I have talked to people who do not remember what happened last night because they were too drunk. I have talked to people whose spouse is ready to divorce them over their use of alcohol. I have talked to people who are in court-mandated counseling for their drinking.

And I have to wonder, Why take the chance?

I know … You are saying, “They weren’t drinking in moderation. They were drunk and we all agree that is wrong.”

And I still have to wonder, Why take the chance?

I do not think the Bible categorically condemns moderate consumption. I think some passages assume the beverage use of alcohol and say to control it. I think the Bible absolutely condemns drunkenness. I think it possible to drink without getting drunk.

I also do not think the Bible condemns jumping off a thirty foot wall into a three-foot pool of water. Flying through the air can be one of the most exciting, liberating feelings in the world. The view is great, and God created beautiful vistas for us to enjoy. You can do it without hurting yourself or your family.

But wisdom seems to say there might be a better way.

Now, of course, we can have all the discussions about the difference between our wine and their wine. And there probably are some, and perhaps not as much as many people like to argue.

I roll my eyes every time I see an evangelical talk about having an adult beverage with friends. It is like a badge of freedom, almost a flaunting of it. It reminds me of Jr High.

In the end, my argument about the beverage use of alcohol is not a biblical and exegetical argument. Which will no doubt cause some to question whether or not I am even a Christian, much less a fundamentalist.

My argument about the beverage use of alcohol is about plain old common sense. I do not think it is a sin. I just think it is silly and unnecessary.

No, you will not cause me to stumble if you invite me out to eat and have a glass of wine. So feel free to invite me out to eat.

I am not going to attack you or question your Christianity. I think you can be godly and have a glass of wine with your dinner.

I just think there is a better way.


*No, it isn’t like caffeine, which I rarely drink either, except when I am at the diner, where it is the only choice. And it isn’t like overeating.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On Preaching to Your Congregation

Bob Thune has some comments worthy of thought at The Resurgence* in an article entitled “Is Preaching Killing Your Church Plant?

Preachers like Piper, Keller, Driscoll, and Chandler speak to thousands each week, and it's great to learn from those guys. But if you're trying to preach like those guys, you're probably making a mistake. Because let's be honest: you're not preaching to thousands.

I spoke with a church planter recently who couldn't understand why his core group of 30 wasn't bringing anyone to church. Answer? Because it's awkward to sit in a room with a few dozen people and get yelled at through a big sound system! It just doesn't fit the environment. I met another guy a few years ago (a Baptist brother, stereotypically) who was setting up a big wooden pulpit in his living room every week so he could preach to his core team of seven people.

Trying to preach like someone else is problematic for a lot of reasons, including the fact their audience is not our audience. We can learn to preach by listening to others. And we should.

But imitating them is not the same as learning from them.

It reminds of the old adage (which I will roughly paraphrase): If I listen to one man preach, I will learn to preach like him. If I listen to a hundred men preach, I will learn to preach like me.

Trying to be John Piper with the gifts of Charlie Brown and the audience found in a bad coffee shop won’t work and will be demoralizing.

In preaching, we must be willing to learn and improve, and we must be willing to be what God has called us to be.


*You know the disclaimers.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Problem with Christianity

We have viewed Christianity individualistically—“am I right with God?” (not that this is unimportant). And in so doing have privatized the faith and  have lost in large measure the larger vision of the redemption not just of individuals but society and the world.

So said M. James Sawyer in response to Michael Spenser’s piece about The Coming Evangelical Collapse.

I see this sentiment often—that our faith is too personal. I think it could not be more misguided. While Sawyer has some interesting, and I think some good, stuff to say, on this particular point, I think Sawyer is wrong.

To bolster his point, Sawyer uses examples such as abortions, business ethic, and marriage.

For instance, he claims that 40% of abortions are performed on evangelical women who would rather “commit what they believe to be murder than to live with the shame and ostracism of the community that was supposed to love them.” (I am not disputing the number.)

He continues “The ethical reputation of evangelicals in business is so notorious as to make the term Evangelical Ethics an oxymoron. Many Christians let alone non-Christians will not do business with those who make public their evangelical commitment.” (I am not disputing the sentiment.)

What’s the problem? The problem is not that faith is too personal, that Christianity is too individualistic.

It is precisely the opposite. It is not personal enough. We are too concerned with what other think (abortion) or with finding success in this world (business ethics). Our faith is not personal enough to cause us to do right in spite of those around us.

Take the abortion example: A woman whose faith in God is extremely personal and individualistic will be more committed to obeying God and less worried about the supposed response of the community around her. But because she is concerned with the community around her, she decides to have an abortion.

The businessman with an extreme personal faith in God will realize that he too has a master in heaven, and will live accordingly. His bad business reputation is because he does not believe strongly enough in God.

What evangelicalism needs is a more personal faith, and a faith less concerned about the response of those outside the faith. 

The problem Sawyer points out is real, but his diagnosis is wrong. We need a more personal faith, not a less personal one.

Friday, June 05, 2009

McKinley on Church Planting

Michael McKinley on church planting, which isn’t good just for church planters:

Be realistic!  You're not Spurgeon, and that's OK.  The best case scenario for 99% of us is that we are faithful to the gospel, God in his kindness lets us see some real and enduring fruit from our labors, and we don't do anything that disgraces the gospel.  That's a win.

Success is seductive, particularly when you see it in others. Any sane person develops a desire to have it for themselves. After all, if you don’t want to reach people with the gospel, why are you a pastor anyway?

But coveting the success of others can be deadly for a lot of reasons. Here are a few that readily come to mind:

  1. It can distract you from trust in God alone for the success of ministry.
  2. It can discourage you to the point of wanting to quit since you are not succeeding like someone else is.
  3. It can lead to unfair comparisons, particularly since your community and your gifts are not the same as his (whoever he is whose success you are lusting after).
  4. It can cause you to always chase the elusive nebulous dream of success (always changing), rather than seeing people as people in desperate need of a Savior.
  5. It can be spiritually, mentally, and emotionally draining.
  6. It can lead to distraction from the real task of preaching Jesus and loving people.

Add your own reasons. I would like to see them.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Behavior vs. Values

“The reality is that an individual’s behavior is the most accurate indicator of his true character. Ultimately our behavior is simply the acting out of our deeply held values. This in no way suggests that we always like or endorse those things that we value. Quite to the contrary, we may, in fact, be quite disheartened and disgusted with ourselves for the things we value and we will be confronted by our unappealing and destructive values through behaviors that are problematic for us and for those with whom we interact” (Rima, Leading From the Inside Out, p. 37).

Enforcing behavior may be necessary for a time, but it is a poor and ineffective way to change lives.

While institutions need to have rules for a variety of situations, and while rules can serve as effective tools in discipleship, rules cannot change values.

Values are products of the human heart. We always live out of our loves, even when those loves are distasteful to us. This is a problematic thought for those who too closely associate love and emotion. But I think it is true. At the moment of any given action or thought, I am doing what I love to do, even though I may hate myself for it within a matter of mere seconds.

If we want to live differently, then we need to love differently. Rules cannot make me love something else. Neither can medication.

This is why the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are (Matthew 22:37).

Monday, June 01, 2009

A Strange Hypocrisy

The weekend’s news brought the tragic story of the killing of noted abortionist, Dr. George Tiller, noted for performing late term abortions. Apparently he was ushering in his church* (an ELCA congregation) when he was gunned down.

Now, this shooting is absolutely inexcusable. It should not have happened.

But why are pro-choice people upset? To them, whether someone lives or dies is a choice, not a crime. If someone is inconvenient to us, we can kill them. That’s what Tiller believed. That’s what NOW, NARAL, our president, the bulk of the Democratic Party, and some in the Republican Party believe.

So why can someone kill one person but they can’t kill another person?

Perhaps it’s because the right of choice only belongs to women, and this shooter was a man. (I speak as a fool.)

It is utter hypocrisy to support the killing of some (the weakest and most unable to defend themselves) while objecting to the killing of others (who are able to defend themselves).

If you are pro-choice, then be pro-choice.

Don’t throw up some faux charade of hypocritical anger. You are the ones who support the killing of innocent people. You cannot legitimately object when it happens (particularly when the victim is not innocent).


*Of course, this whole sad episode raises the question of what is going on in our churches when a member is a noted abortionist. Where was the leadership of this church demanding repentance of Dr. Tiller? Where was the church discipline and the denial of communion and fellowship?