Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top Posts of 2010

I was going to post my “Best of 2010” review by linking to selected posts in which I made particularly good and timely points, or in which I demonstrated of superb writing and lucid thinking, or which were poignant analyses of social and cultural issues of our day, or in which I exposed the foolishness and fallacies of the “wanna-bes.”

It would serve the purpose of upping my page view count serving my readers by reminding them of how great and indispensable I think my own writing is important things that every one should already know but probably forgot.

So I have studiously reviewed my posts from 2010 for the last thirty seconds or so (which is all the time I have for consideration of self-production for the sake of self-promotion … I must move on to something more profitable, like studying the back of the judge’s head who is just three booths away from me facing the other direction).

Having performed this studious review, I have concluded that it would be impossible to select the best from the rest because they are all so good.

So I commend to you The Best of Stuff Out Loud—2010 Edition.

Caveat Emptor.

In the Diner

Things are picking up now. The noise has increased.

When I first got here this morning there were three of us, and Vicki the waitress. (I doubt she prefers “server.”) Now the judge is here, Ernie, and a few others.

Compared to last year this time, there are some empty seats.

Two regulars passed away this year. One was a Korean War vet. He was a court officer here in the city in his retirement. He always sat the third seat from the end at the counter. Every day when he left he would get a couple of pieces of bread to feed to the birds outside. About a year ago he lost his lower leg to diabetes. Earlier this year, he passed away.

Richard just passed away last week. He always sat in the very end seat at the counter. He always bought a paper that got passed around after he read it, and he played a little pocket video poker game quite often. He would help out with little things like cleaning the bathrooms and mopping the floors. I think it was in exchange for his coffee. He had gone in the hospital around Thanksgiving time with some pain. I am not sure if they ever figured out exactly what was wrong.

A few other regulars are no longer regulars. Job situations changed from their close place of work next door to a place on the other side of town. So rather than coming in and hanging around for a cup of coffee throughout the day, they don’t come at all. (Though having written this, I see him sitting in the back booth. First time in months that I have seen him in here.)

Of course there are some who got miffed at various things in the diner. They no longer come. In some ways I say, “Good riddance,” though a people conscious pastor probably shouldn’t say stuff like that.

All of which reminds me of the passing of time and the passing of relationships. I knew all these people to one degree or another. I knew them because we came to the same place at the same time.

And now they are no longer here.

It’s only me.

What will another year bring? Who will come into our lives? Who will pass out of them?

Only God knows. We will soon find out.

And perhaps a year from now we will sit here and wonder where So-and-So is, or what happened that That-Guy-Over-There.

So redeem the time. Make the most of every opportunity.

One day it will be the last.

Monday, December 27, 2010

On Classical Music

I finally got a chance to watch this this morning. It’s excellent and instructive in a number of ways which others have pointed out. I would venture to say that most people who claim to hate classical music have probably never listen to much of it, if any.

What this reminds me of is the fact that music communicates without any words whatsoever. Chopin doesn’t need lyrics to tell us what kind of emotions or attitude to have during the music. Words or explanation can enhance that, to be sure. But no one listens to this Chopin prelude to get hyped up for a basketball game. Listening to this piece tells you why without any explanation.

It reminds me of another of my favorite pieces of music, the Moonlight Sonata. One only needs to listen to it to understand why it’s not entitled “Victory Parade” or “Wedding March.” It does not need a single word to communicate to us how utterly incompatible it is with either occasion. It’s not even “Sunlight Sonata” for obvious reasons. And my guess is that has nothing to do with culture. It’s instinctive.

This short lecture also reminds me how effectively music communicates expectations. This lecturer demonstrates that when he asks everyone to sing the next note, and everyone knows what that note is … Except it isn’t. Chopin actually goes somewhere else.

In musical terms, I explain it this way. The tonal, or the I chord (for instance, the C chord in a piece written in the key of C) clearly signifies the end of a phrase (and often a piece). So when a piece goes to the F chord (or the IV chord, so called because it is four musical steps up from the I or the C chord), everyone knows that it isn’t the end. There needs to be some resolution. But no one has to explain that. It needs no words. The music itself tells you that. There’s nothing immoral about a IV chord. It is a necessary part of any music. It just doesn’t fit in certain places. (This can be easily demonstrated on a piano or guitar, but I don’t feel like recording that here and now.)

In life terms, I explain it this way: You are coming down the steps in the middle of the night and you think you have reached the bottom. And all your weight is positioning itself for that next step which is exactly on the same level as the last step. Except that there is one more step. I did this one night. I fell on my face in the living room floor. Fortunately there was no one there to see it, and if you ever repeat this story, I will deny it. But suffice it to say that I had an expectation that wasn’t met.

Music does that. It creates expectations, without any words. And when those expectations aren’t met, it jars us a bit at some level.

His playing of the Chopin piece is great in that in the middle of it there is a distinct section that gets a bit more energetic, or dare I say, agitated. And yet no one needs to say, “Here comes the agitation, or the change.” We don’t need words. The music itself tells us that.

Another one of my favorite works is Holst’s The Planets. Fabulous music, in my opinion. Particularly Mars. Compare that with the Chopin Prelude that is found on this video. And ask yourself which you would put your baby to sleep with, and why. And it won’t take an advanced degree in music to answer that.

So what’s my point in this whole thing?

My point is that the idea that music is “amoral” and can be used for anything at anytime depending on what words you put with it is so utterly absurd that it is laughable that anyone suggests that. Music needs no words to communicate with us.

By saying that, I am not saying (at this point) that any type of music is inherently sinful or wicked. That’s not my point at all. I am not even saying that the response to music is universal … that all people in all cultures understand music the exact same way. My point is that some types of music are inappropriate for some things, and we do not need to lyrics to know that. It is self-evident.

(BTW, listen to this and try to figure it out before the words start. And don’t cheat by looking at the mouseover that shows the link. Seriously, it makes me laugh how utterly incompatible the music and the words are. And at this point I am not saying anything about the music style.)

Now there is a lot of meat here to chew on and expound on and my point isn’t to do that. Perhaps later I will broach this again.

I would only say this: Don’t say that music is amoral and that any type of music can be used for anything depending on what words you put with it.

No thinking person believes that. If someone does believe that, it’s only because they aren’t thinking. They are simply trying to defend the indefensible.

Strong? Sure. But self-evident.

And if you doubt that, go look and see what type of music they play at different times in their day and in their lives. See what they put their babies to bed with and what they put on the Ipod to exercise to. See what they listen to when they are emotionally down. You will see that they instinctively know that certain types of music create certain types of atmospheres and moods.

Music communicates in and of itself. It teaches us what to think. BTW, that’s why movie music works. It teaches you what to think about what is going on on the screen in front of you. The narrator need not say, “Be scared right now.” The music says it all by itself. 

I wish I had a good ending for this, but I don’t, so let me just get to the I chord and say “Bye for now.”

$180,000 in Detroit

This is what $180,000 will get you in Detroit.

No, not the houses. The artwork.

Seriously.

$180,000.

And this is what you get?

For far less money those houses could have been turned into livable houses instead of displays of people’s weirdness and lack of aesthetic judgment.

I know I am revealing that I am not much of an artist, but give me Rembrandt or Ansel Adams over this junk (literally). Or Monet even. I would even take Rockwell. Or one of my favorite paintings, Nighthawks. (I am not sure why I like this picture. It just conveys an eerie sense of loneliness and hopelessness for the man sitting alone.)

For $180,000 those six artists could have been hired to do something productive for the community. They could have been given real jobs. Have them hang a sheet of drywall, or teach them to replace an electrical socket or something. Paint a wall or mop a floor.

Of course, I am all for the free market, and if I could have gotten a bit of this money for something like this I would have taken it. So I don’t begrudge these artists for taking the money of someone who lacks the sense to put it to good use.

But having spent the last six weeks or so working on my house and actually turning it into something livable for far less money, I know $180,000 and a few mediocre skills combined with a willingness to try a few things can actually turn into something acceptable. Grand even for that amount of money.

Or you can find someone to give you a bunch of money to clean out a trash dumpster and hang the junk up in an abandoned house.

One day I will post a few pictures and you can compare my artwork to theirs and see if I should have gotten a bit of the handout.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Honestly, People, This Is No Excuse

One blog author, after letting go with a rather unseemly phrase (Not like “you’re now going to hell” unseemly, but just “that was really juvenile” unseemly), excuses it by saying “I’m being as honest as I know how to be.”

I wonder what that means.

Is honesty really a skill we learn? If this guy keeps growing will he learn more? Can he add to this knowledge base so that he knows how to be honest in a different way?

Or is honesty a set knowledge base? Is there impossible to learn and grow?

And is honesty really an excuse to be a jerk?

Now I wouldn’t say this guy was being a jerk; he was just being juvenile.

But often, particularly in personal relationships, “as honest as I know how to be” is an excuse for “I just unloaded my own personal grievances with you in a way that really hurt you but you need to just deal with my jerkness because ‘I’m being as honest as I know how to be.’”

I think “honest as I know how to be” becomes an excuse for a lack of discernment and judgment about what to say and how to say it. It becomes an excuse for self-centered verbal barrages without consideration of grace and tact.

And I think we can do better.

I think we need to learn the grace of speech seasoned with salt. We need to learn that the tongue is like a wildfire that destroys. It can destroy lives and people, relationships and futures.

Or it can build and edify. It can dignify and honor.

Use it well. Use it honestly. Use it with discretion.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Let Me Be the First to Say It

The days are getting longer now.

Officially, the winter solstice is tomorrow, but the sunset times (the length of day most of us care about) began to get later in the last few days.

Before we know it, the kids will be going to bed in daylight. Or at least we will be telling them to go to bed while it’s still daylight.

It does seem to me like time flies faster than ever these days. It is hard to believe my little Pinkling turns 2 today. Happy birthday, little girl.

But time flying is a good thing during the winter. It gives us hope that before long the bitter cold will break and the leaves will start to bud.

In another interesting coincidence, for the first time in a 456 years, the winter solstice coincides with a lunar eclipse. You can get up with me at about 3:00 am to see it. Of course, if I am not there right at 3:00, please start watching without me. I will be along shortly, I promise.

And hey, enjoy that extra sunshine out there today, folks.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas for Dummies*

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us,
and we saw His glory,
glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. …
No one has seen God at any time;
the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father,
He has explained Him.

John the Apostle, John 1:14, 18

____________________________

*The title is probably trademarked somewhere. I use it here because I think it is a great series of books, or at least a great idea for a series of books that takes unfamiliar things and explain them simply.

I think we are hardpressed to find a more clear and simple explanation of Christmas than what John gave us in his gospel account.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ironic

A man recently wrote an article suggesting that the doctrine of the Bible is important enough to separate over.

Another man writes an article disagreeing with the first man on certain things (though it is not clear the the second man even understands the point of the first man) and complaining, in part, that the first man did not cite any Scripture in support of his position.

However, the second man cites no Scripture in support of his own position. All he offers us are his own opinions. Sure he sprinkles a few references in, but in reading them, it is easy to see that they do not support the second man’s opinions. In other words, not once does he show where God says what he says.

And that, friends, is ironic.

Of course we all know that there is a reason why the second man does not cite any scriptural support for his position. It is because there is none. Not one verse of Scripture can be marshalled to support this man’s doctrine.

And in so doing, he proves the point of the first man’s article. These types of people have added to the Scripture and then demand that all who disagree with them are in error.

And that, friends, is priceless.

In fact, the second man says at least one thing that is plainly and demonstrably not true. He says concerning the first man that “In part 22 of his series he dismissed the need to expound on 2 Thess. 3.”

Yet in the part 22 that I received, here’s what the first man actually said:

These fundamentalists correctly insist that certain Scriptures do require the limitation of fellowship with professing brothers who sin (1 Cor. 5:11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14; et al.—my present purpose is not to expound these texts). These passages must not be dismissed …

When you compare the two statements, you can easily see that either the second man either can’t read, didn’t read, didn’t understand, forgot, or lied. I won’t hazard a guess as to which is true, though some options are worse than others.

But clearly the first man did not “dismiss the need.” He in fact emphasized the need. He said these passages must not be dismissed. Now, “not” is a short word, and easy enough to miss, I suppose. But it is an important one, I would say.

Now the question is, should any one listen to anyone who cares so little about the truth? It wasn’t all that long ago that I was lambasted for calling into question this second man’s honesty and integrity.

Turns out here’s part 2 of the proof that I was right.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Point People to Jesus

Borchert comments on John 1:8 where it says, “He was not the Light but he came to testify about the Light”:

This verse has great continuing relevance for the church because of the temptation for Christian leaders to assume a status of being more than witnesses and to pretend to speak personally with the authority of the light. In such times Christian leaders need to hear the warning that they are not the light but are merely humble witnesses to the light. (Borchert, John 1-11, NAC, p. 112)

This was modeled by John the Baptist in John 3:26-30. John’s disciples complained that John’s followers were going over the Jesus. “John,” they said, “you are losing your crowd to the other Guy.”

John’s response was simple: “That’s my purpose. I did not come to gain a crowd, but to give the crowd away. I am not the bridegroom; I am only the friend. He must increase. I must decrease.”

We would all do well to remember that our job is to point people to Jesus.

Resist the temptation to become an authority. Point people to the one who is.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pardon Me?

Apparently, according to some, the church should accept racial division in the church.

Well not exactly but one pastor writes an article that complains about the following line from the affirmations and denials of Together for the Gospel:

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

This author goes on to say,

Who can argue that the church should accept discrimination and racial prejudice, but to say that “division” betrays the Gospel is to say exactly what the New Evangelicals said in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Division over error is how the Gospel (which by the way includes the whole of Scripture, not just salvation truth) is kept pure and protected for God’s glory, yet we are led to believe that “division” betrays the Gospel. Unity at all costs is the heart throb of New-Evangelicalism.

What’s the problem?

Here’s a pastor, trying to influence people, who has painted a picture for his unsuspecting readers that simply is not true.

You see, the T4G statement cited has nothing to do with division over doctrinal error. It is about division over race. You can read it for yourself right here. And when you do, it is easy to see that this author has clearly misrepresented what the denial is all about. I wouldn’t think it would be that hard to read the 112 words that make up Article XVII (17 for those who don’t know Roman) and understand what it is talking about.

If you can’t follow it there, let me simplify it for you: Article 17 is about race, not doctrine. It affirms that any church that separates or divides on the basis of race is denying the gospel. In other words, you cannot legitimately cite Article 17 from T4G with reference to separating over doctrinal error. It is not addressing that point.

Furthermore, if you are familiar in the least with the T4G men, you know that these men all have a commitment to fighting doctrinal error and even separating over it. In fact, they do it in a way that is much more public than many fundamentalists, simply by virtue of their visibility. The author references this issue with one of these men in his article apparently fails to understand what actually happened. In fact, one of the complaints about these men is that the T4G speakers are all Calvinists and they have not invited any non-Calvinists to share pulpit fellowship at the conference. In other words, one of the complaints is that they have separated over the issue of Calvinism, at least in this conference.  Separatists complaining that others have separated from doctrines they consider to be wrong. Ironic, eh?

Now, to be clear, while I have greatly enjoyed the preaching at T4G, I think the T4G men are deficient in some of the ways they go about this doctrinal separation. I do it differently, and think they should. But to say that they don’t believe in separation over doctrinal error is simply wrong.

I don’t think this pastor is intentionally misrepresenting this. And I don’t think he is arguing for racial division in the church. I simply think he has an axe to grind, and he is reaching for anything that might help him make a point he wants to make. He doesn’t care enough to understand what the point of Article 17 is all about.

I don’t know this guy, at least to my knowledge. But doesn’t he have some friends who would read this article and point out that he has made this error? Apparently not because I first saw this article a few weeks ago, and I noticed this; now it remains unchanged. I assumed that this pastor’s friends would have pointed it out by now so it could be corrected. But apparently no one has. Today, it has been republished on another blog of questionable repute that quite frequently misrepresents people (myself included) in an attempt to bolster the blogger’s own (misguided in many cases) opinions.

Listen, there are some reasons to be concerned about some of the things this author talks about in the article. But he could have, and should have, made that point without this error.

You don’t help your point when you support it by misrepresentation of another.

Hopefully someone in this man’s circle of friends and relationships will point this out to him.

But I won’t hold my breath that any change will be made. It’s not the fundamentalist way. We have learned too well that when you say something, you stand by it no matter what. And when someone points out the weakness, you double down and say it louder.

I am sick to death of this kind of stuff. I am sure that I have been guilty of it at times, and when I find out I am, I try to go back and fix it. I have on different occasions edited my own articles here when I find out something is different than what I said. I have even removed articles for that reason.

Here’s my point: We, as preachers and teachers of the Scriptures, of all people should have a higher commitment to truth. And faithfully teaching the Scriptures is incompatible with misrepresenting what others believe.

Let’s do better than this, people. 

NB – After writing this this morning and saving it for posting, Dave Doran has written a similar article posted at SharperIron. Our articles were written independently. In fact, Dave hasn’t talked to me since I beat him 2&1 a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SOTL Needs An Editor?

From the “You can’t make this up” category, I received in the mail a copy of the Sword of the Lord today. This is the first copy I have received in my life I think, though I used to read others.

Here’s the comical part. The front page has a sermon by Charles Spurgeon entitled “Only Trust Him” as well as a article by Jeff Amsbaugh entitle “What Difference Does It Make Anyway?”

Now, that may not seem strange to you until you read Amsbaugh’s article. It is part 7 of “The Case Against Calvinism.”

So here you have it: The SOTL prints an article by a five point Calvinist (who actually said “Calvinism” was another name for the gospel) alongside an article “refuting” Calvinism.

Spurgeon’s Calvinism is not a secret. It is perhaps the most well known fact of Spurgeon’s theology. Very few could tell you his denomination or his eschatology. But his Calvinism is widely trumpeted in his own preaching. So how did the editor juxtapose these two articles?

I suppose we could call this “equal time.” I think we know better. I think we have an editor who doesn’t edit very well, or who doesn’t see the irony in this.

Amsbaugh’s article is a joke, unintentional to be sure. Perhaps the funniest part is that he repeats the old line about Calvinism not being evangelistic. The reason that is so funny is that this is the same issue of SOTL where a five point Calvinist calls on people to believe and be saved.

I am telling you, folks, you just can’t make this stuff up.

Here’s another funny part. Spurgeon’s message has this line: “the very existence of such a faith as that in the soul [saving faith] is evidence that there is already a saving change.”

Did you pick that up?

Because the editors who apparently routinely slaughter Spurgeon’s sermons to remove evidences of Calvinism didn’t pick it up. What Spurgeon just said is that saving change precedes faith. The word “already” puts the change prior to the faith. Calvinists usually say it this way: Regeneration precedes faith.

Now let’s be clear once again: I don’t care if you aren’t a Calvinist. It really doesn’t bother me, though it means we have some severe differences that will limit our participation in some ways, though not all ways. I am a Calvinist (soteriologically) because Scripture gives my conscience no other options. But feel free to disagree.

But let’s appeal to people to not make stuff up. Yes there are Calvinists who are everything Amsbaugh describes. But there are many who are just the opposite. They are loving, evangelistic, humble, passionate, devoted to the clear teaching of the Word, Baptist, and a lot of others things. Some even have bus ministries.

The SOTL can do better. But after all these years, can we really expect change?

Probably not, but we can at least laugh about it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Some Thoughts on OT Historical Narrative and David and Goliath

I recently had the opportunity (obligation) to interact with some passages in 1 Samuel for a class I was sitting in on Preaching Narratives.

What struck me is that in this class of pastors who had interacted exegetically and homiletically with the same passages in 1 Samuel there was very little seeming awareness of the historical context of the writing of 1 and 2 Samuel. The main themes in preaching were about moralistic and illustrative examples, most with some form of Jesus tacked on the end as the “Greater David” or the one who fights for us, or some such, all of which miss the point. The stories were viewed almost as isolated vignettes of fascinating story rather than a single narrative to make a bigger point.

I think the point of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings is pretty easy. It is a defense of the Davidic monarchy. 1 and 2 Samuel was written probably after the death of Solomon, in the days when people would begin to forget the reign of Saul. So these histories were written to explain how it came to be that Saul, the first king, had no reigning son (as should have been expected), and how David, the second king, was the one who had and would have reigning sons so long as there was a kingdom culminating in Jesus and the restoration of the kingdom.

Here’s an example from the story of David and Goliath which was one of the passages we interacted on.

But what is it about? Let me cut to the chase: David and Goliath is not about David and Goliath but about David and Saul. It really has nothing to do with how to defeat giants in your life, or how Jesus defeats your giants for you. It is about the failure of leadership and conviction by Saul compared to the leadership and conviction demonstrated by David.

Goliath is the antagonist, but he’s not really the point. He is a side issue that brings the real issue to the fore.

The real issue is leadership of God’s people. Saul was weak and vacillating. He was fearful. He was willing to stand back and ask for people to go fight, and give them rewards if they would.

In contrast, David was convinced that God’s name was at stake and was willing to die to defend it. He spoke up, to the discomfort of others. He was amazed no one else had this conviction. He got up and went to the amazement of others, even going without armor. He boldly confronted the enemy face to face rather than ask someone else to go do it.

So the events of David and Goliath are intended to highlight how God switches the loyalties from Saul to David.

This is most clearly seen, not in the events of 1 Samuel 17 but in the events of 1 Samuel 18. The crowds cheer, “Saul has slain his thousands but David has slain his tens of thousands.” It was a bit of hyperbole to be sure. But it was clear that the people were far more impressed by David than by Saul. He was a man they were willing (at that time) to follow into battle. Saul had lost favor.

The key phrase of the whole story pops up in 1 Samuel 18:8 where Saul, in his anger says, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?”

The answer: He shall have the kingdom too.

The people of Israel did not need to know how to fight giants in the Valley of Elah, or in their personal lives. They needed to know why David was the man, the king, the one that they should follow. They needed to know why David’s sons were the legitimate rulers in Israel.

So I suggested this in class.

It was met with, “I think all that is true, but I don’t know how you preach that.”

But I think how you preach it is secondary; what the text means is primary.

We cannot avoid the purpose and meaning of a text simply because it we think it doesn’t preach well. And we cannot seek the meaning which preaches well. We have to ask many of the same questions of narrative that we ask of the epistles: Why was this written? What problem was it intended to address?

Of course, as a dispensationalist, I can preach this differently because I can preach the future reign of a Davidic king, Jesus, which is the fulfillment of everything God started in 1 Samuel 17 with a boastful giant.

I don’t need to charge out and fight some giants. I need to know that Jesus is the Davidic ruler who will sit on the throne of David, and 1 Samuel 17 is where it started.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Vote for Abortion? or Against?

There’s a certain irony in the story of a couple taking an online poll about whether or not they should abort a 17-week old baby in the womb.

She and her husband, Peter Arnold, began the online vote because she was still healing emotionally from the most recent of three miscarriages, she said. They weren't sure whether she was ready for a baby.

So if I get this right, she lost a recent baby due to a miscarriage, and because she is still suffering she is thinking about aborting the next one.

How does losing two babies help the emotional suffering of losing one?

We have been on the end of losing a baby to miscarriage. I admit to looking around the house sometimes and wondering what a six-year old would be like. I wonder what kind of personality he would have had, and wonder what we might have enjoyed doing together.

But I can’t imagine how taking the life of another baby is going to make that easier.

Yes, I know I am the man in the relationship. I know I didn’t carry the baby, and experience the miscarriage. For me, I didn’t grasp it all at first. The farther we got from the miscarriage, the more it bothered me. Weird, I know.

But I still don’t understand how aborting a second baby makes losing the first easier to deal with.

The very next paragraph of the article is also interesting.

"I wanted to wait longer because I was losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle," she said. "I wasn't sure what to do."

I know reasons can be complex, and losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle is a good thing. But is that the real reason for the abortion? To keep from having a mommy body?

It is a disturbing world we live in.

And sometimes, I just don’t know what to say.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cultural Fundamentalism

The term “cultural fundamentalist” recently was used. Some have pled ignorance that they didn’t know what that was. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt that they actually don’t, though I would suggest that they make up a very small group that doesn’t read much or interact with many outside of their tribe.

Why? Because when I interact with non-fundamentalists and they find out I am a Baptist (or as someone pointed out last night over beer and pizza, a “babtist”), they want to know what kind. “Independent” is my answer.

“Fundamentalist?” they say.

“Probably not, if you are asking the question.”

Why? Because usually, when someone asks the question, they have a definition of “fundamentalist” and I am hesitant to let them define me as a fundamentalist until I know what they mean.

So what do they mean, I ask.

Here’s a summary of some recent questions asked of me in personal conversations. There are all real questions  (“I am not preaching here; I am telling the truth”), and they all come from pastors (in other words, people with a reason to have a greater grasp than “Joe on the street”).

  1. Are you KJV-Only or do you use the KJV?
  2. What version do you use?
  3. Do you go to movies?
  4. Do you drink alcohol?
  5. Do you think women should not wear pants?
  6. Do you wear a suit and tie to preach in?
  7. Do you wear shorts?
  8. Do you have any connection with Bob Jones University (when they found out I was from Greenville)?

Notice what is absent: The gospel, the church, doctrine, ministry fellowship/participation.

I promise that these are real questions. And I promise that no one asks me what what I think about Billy Graham, ministry partnerships, cooperative evangelism, the gospel, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, or the charismatics.

In other words, when people think “fundamentalist,” they don’t think “defending the gospel” or “partnering for ministry.” They think cultural issues.

Of course there are exceptions. I had dinner this week with a well-known and highly-respected man, whose name every reader here would know (and would say, “How did you get hooked up with him?”). He actually did reference fundamentalists as separatists. But in my experience, he is the exception.

But what most people ask about is cultural issues, because that is what people think fundamentalism is. Now, one might attempt to make the case that the Bible version is not cultural, but theological. I think that is partially true and partially not true, but I don’t want to deal with that argument here.

You see, they know exactly what a cultural fundamentalist is … It is a fundamentalist who is known first for his stands on cultural issues. He is not known for loving the gospel, sound doctrine, theology, and the church, though he may do all those things. He is known for cultural standards.

Is that fair? Complain away, but that impression did not come from nowhere.

You see, cultural fundamentalism exists, and in it, people care less about what you believe and more about what you do and don’t do. Again, complain away, but that impression does not come from nowhere.

What do we do? Well, if we are really about the the defense and propagation of the gospel, we have a serious PR problem. However, I fear it isn’t only PR. I fear that too many fundamentalists are as much about these cultural issues as they are about the gospel. And that is a problem.

What’s my solution? I don’t claim to be a fundamentalist without lots of explanation. And sometimes, I don’t claim it at all. For some, that makes me a new evangelical. But I think I am living proof that some sort of “silent majority” does exist for all the caterwauling against it (without benefit of evidence ironically).

By the way, what are my answers?

  1. No, No
  2. NASB
  3. Only when there is something I really want to pay money and waste a couple of hours to see, which is a really short list which in the last decade only included Fireproof and We Were Soldiers.
  4. No, but I won’t stumble if you do. Let it make your heart glad if your conscience allows; but don’t get drunk, and don’t expect me to pay for it.
  5. I don’t care; be appropriate and be modest.
  6. Usually only when you are getting married or getting buried, or other rare occasions.
  7. Usually only seven days a week, unless it falls below 25 degrees or it is Sunday morning.
  8. You might say that.

And no, the beer wasn’t mine.

On Leadership

The Detroit Free Press has an article today about a Marine, previously deployed to Iraq, and now facing the prospect of deploying to Afghanistan as a Sargeant, responsible for leading the kind of men that he used to be when he first went to Iraq.

The article quotes Master Sgt. Brian Ivers, a 21-year veteran of the Marine Corps speaking on leadership.

"It's like an apprenticeship -- seeing and doing," [Ivers] said.

But Ivers said that non-commissioned officers aren't there for personal improvement or finding a better business model.

"You can't manage men in combat," Ivers said. "You have to lead them.... These kids that you are leading are on loan -- we don't own them."

Two conclusions:

  1. Leadership isn’t management.
  2. Leaders are created by seeing and doing.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Brilliant

This is brilliant.

San Francisco, in it’s infinite wisdom, has banned the selling of Happy Meals with toys because the meals contain so much fat.

Yeah … I am pretty sure that not selling toys with Happy Meals will solve the childhood obesity problems.

This way, rather than take time to hop in the mom-mobile and head down to the Golden Arches, children can continue to sit on the floor in front of the TV playing video games.

That will surely be better for them.

Challenges for a New Generation

I had a great time tonight meeting a new friend and enjoying some great conversation that challenged my thinking. Here are some quick hits, largely undeveloped, of some challenges raised in my mind tonight to which I think we need to give careful consideration.

The challenge of church purpose – By this, I don’t mean disciple-making vs. something else. I mean simply, “What are we going to be about?” Or “What are we here for?” We all know the right answer. But what we need to figure out is the actual answer. The church needs to think seriously and carefully about the roles of authority that it gives to certain demographics. I fear that too many church are content to coddle the malcontent rather than reach people with the gospel. I fear that too many are content to coddle the worldly and unbelieving than to feed the sheep. We need to feed the sheep that we have (and shear them at times) as well as be a midwife that assists in the birth of new sheep.

The challenge of multi-ethnic ministry – Cultural lines of race and ethnicity need to go away. “I have friends who are African-American” is not a sufficient response to racial divides. Churches must strive to look like their community. We cannot control who repents and believes. But we can control the culture of our church that either encourages and models multi-ethnicity or discourages or at best tolerates people who look different than us. Hardly anyone gives the wrong answer to these questions. The question is, “Are we willing to face the challenge of intentional multi-ethnicity that reflects our community?'”

The challenge of cultural relevance – While the word “relevance” is a dirty word to some, it should not be. To be culturally relevant simply means that we need to speak into the world that we live in, applying the truth of the Bible to life as we know it. We need to preach to the people in front of us. We must be answering questions that people are asking, not questions that we already know the answers to. We must learn how to reframe their questions in a way that taps into the revelation of God. There is a fine line between timelessness and timeliness in preaching. A lot of people are nowhere near that line. “Preach to the people in front of you” contains two keys thoughts. By “preach,” I refer to the timelessness of God’s revelation. It is the sole source of authoritative material for preaching. By “the people in front of you” I refer to the timeliness of knowing your congregation and applying the word to their lives. Preaching to people that aren’t there is a useless task. Failing to preach to people that are there is likewise useless.

The challenge of genuine musical worship – This is not about “kicking up” the music (or “reining it in”). It is about singing theology that is intelligible, both in words and musical form. It is far too easy for a pastor (or worse yet a music director) to throw together a few songs haphazardly, chopped up by announcements, inane comments, rustling pages, the offering, and “greeting those around you with a smile.” I would rather we just sing—two or three songs in a row, perhaps interspersed with some relevant Scripture. Create and sustain a flow of thought, a message in and of itself. I don’t think genuine musical worship for contemporary Christians is tied to “contemporary music.” I think it is tied to intentional structure and planning, selecting songs with weight, and planning the flow with minimal distractions and diversions.

The challenge of gospel centrality or gospel foundationalism without gospel solitude – This challenge is easily misunderstood, and part of me hesitates to even suggest it because someone will jump on it. But here goes: The gospel must be central, but the gospel must not be isolated. There are other important things in the Scripture that demand certain responses for certain kinds of fellowship. The existence of “essential doctrine” is patently obvious. But we must ask the question, “Essential for what?” The doctrine essential to be a Christian is different than the doctrine essential to be Baptist. And you can be one without being the other. The doctrine essential to share Christian fellowship is different than the doctrine essential to plant a church together. To paraphrase Ed Stetzer, when you are planting a church and the first baptism comes up, you gotta decide whether you need a cup or a tub. (He and I, like Jesus, need a tub.) A new generation must be convinced that there are things besides the gospel that are important, and the lack of agreement on these things is limiting in some ways. The gospel is all that is needed to be reconciled to God. The gospel is not all that is needed to live obediently in this present age awaiting the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thanks friend. It was encouraging and challenging.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

What Now?

Well, the  election is over. The Republicans gain a majority in the House and narrow the gap in the Senate.

In a rare foray into politics, I am going to make a few quick predictions.

  1. Not much will change. Republicans have neither the political will nor the numbers to undo health care or to fix spending or to fix taxes. They can do it in the house, but not the Senate. And it is unlikely they could get 60 votes in the Senate to override a veto, and Obama will not veto his own health care bill. They don’t have enough influence in the Senate to change judicial appointments.
  2. Congress will continue to spend without much restraint. We might see some very minimal and largely negligible decreases. We might see more cuts if Obama catches on (something he has not typically been quick to do; see next point). The overall budget will not decrease by the 8-10% that it needs to in order to remain solvent.
  3. Obama will be looking like a moderate by 2012. Remember how everyone is saying this is 1994 all over again? I think it is. And remember 1996? Bill Clinton, having lost his house majority, began to work with Republicans with the result that he began to look like a counter to their “radical right” policies (which weren’t all that radical). With Republican insistence, they brought about some welfare reform and ultimately a budget surplus, all of which Clinton took credit for, and none of which would have likely happened were it not for 1994. If Obama catches on, he can move to the center and establish himself in the center as a counter to the Tea Party mentality. Hopefully, Obama continues to show himself deficient in catching on.
  4. The Republicans will once again show themselves incapable of serious conservative government. We have seen this movie before and Republicans are arguers (just like Democrats are). And here’s the big difference between leaders and arguers. An arguer just likes to fight, and they are good at it so long as they have someone to fight against. But they can’t lead because they have no ideas. All their ideas are rejections of others people’s ideas. The Democratic leaders tend to be more philosophically driven and tend to play hardball more effectively. That’s how they got health care to pass. Republican leaders are more pragmatic (remember the huge deficit increases under Bush in spite of all the “fiscal conservative” rhetoric they spout). Anyone who voted yes on any of the last 20 budgets has no credibility when it comes to fiscal conservatism. The Republicans high point in the last twenty years was the time from 1994-2000 when they effectively reined in Clinton. They simply did not play the political game very well and Clinton used the bully pulpit to take all the credit for it.

So here’s what I would do if I were John Boehner: I would retire and go live on lobbyists money in the Caribbean where I could play golf every day. Because today is the easiest day of the rest of your life. It is all down hill from here.

But since you worked hard to be the leader, here’s the plan:

  1. Immediately reinstate the Bush tax cuts for everyone making less than $500,000 a year. To cut taxes for people making more is unnecessary and politically risky. The $500,000 is higher than Obama’s, and the people from $250,000 to $500,000 are most likely to horde rather than spend, particularly if they are paying more taxes. People who make a million or more a year don’t think all that much about the cost of things. Include in this tax cut the rollbacks on capital gains, since almost every American is affected by that. Remember, the number of American with no capital investment is very small. Why? Because of 401Ks and IRAs. Anyone who has a 401K or an IRA is subject to capital gains. And the money that pays the increased capital gains tax comes out of their retirement ultimately, or out of their children’s education, or vacation, or something else. Capital gains tax is not a rich people tax. It is a working people tax. This should pass very quickly on a voice vote.
  2. Address particular points of the health care bill. Here are three quick steps: (1) Remove the requirement for coverage, (2) allow insurance to be sold across state lines (and let people pick and choose how much and what coverage they want), and (3) allow all money used to pay for health insurance premiums to be pre-tax dollars. These are three simple and should be non-controversial items. They get you easy quick wins and paints objectors as “The Party of No.” A no vote or a veto on anyone of them can be painted as disastrous. How can anyone object to pretax dollars being used for health care premiums? It is a one line bill that should pass unanimously on a voice vote in time for 2010 tax filing (and save people a lot of money, myself included).
  3. Establish an immediate precedent on spending cuts by addressing earmarks, as in banning them.
  4. Begin serious budget talks with all parties involved. Enlist the help of state leaders from states which successfully cut spending in order to benefit from their experience and get outside of Washington. Live by a legitimate form of PAYGO.
  5. Establish the precedent of having bills short enough to be read, so that people know what is in them. If you want to pass 1300 pages of legislation, do it in twenty or thirty separate bills.

Above all, be committed to showing that there is a real difference between the parties. Republicans cannot be just Democrat-lite. Remember that people didn’t elect Republicans because they like Republicans. They elected Republicans because they didn’t like the direction of the country. And while it was a significant gain in the house, it is not an overwhelming victory.

Be humble and be bold. Don’t forget why your party got elected. Because two years from now, it could happen again … the other way.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Mission, Incarnation, and John 20:21

My friend Mark recently commented on the use of John 20:21 in the missional church conversation. John 20:21 is one of the texts that is almost universally appealed to by missional advocates of “incarnational ministry.”

Dave Doran, last week at the MACP, commented on the problems with “incarnation” as a model for ministry.

Here are some helpful thoughts from Eckhard J. Schnabel, in Early Christian Mission, Volume 2: Paul and the Early Church.

“I submit that the use of the term ‘incarnational’ is not very helpful to describe the task of authentic Christian missionary work. The event of the coming of Jesus into the world is unique, unrepeatable and incomparable, making it preferable to use other terminology to express the attitudes and behavior that Paul describes in 1 Cor 9:19-23. The Johannine missionary commission in Jn 20:21 does not demand an ‘incarnation’ of Jesus’ disciples but rather their obedience, unconditional commitment and robust activity in the service of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is precisely John who describes the mission of Jesus as unique: Jesus is the ‘only’ Son (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:14, 18), he is preexistent (Jn 1:1, 14), his relationship to the Father is unparalleled (Jn 1:14, 18). For John, it is not the manner of Jesus’ coming into the world, the Word becoming flesh, the incarnation, that is a ‘model’ for believers; rather, it is the nature of Jesus’ relationship to the Father who sent him into the world, which is one of obedience to and dependence upon the Father. … The terms ‘contextualization’ or ‘inculturation’ certainly are more helpful” (pp. 1574-1575).*

Again, I would emphasize that one of my concerns is not whether or not we (as Christians or the church) should do something. The concern here is the theological basis for why we should do something if we do something.

Schnabel (as Doran) argues that the incarnation is not the basis for it. When Jesus incarnated, it was not a mode of ministry. It was becoming human. Since we are already human, we are already incarnated, and therefore everything we do is “incarnational.” In fact, I would submit that “incarnational” is the only way that ministry can take place, inasmuch as “out of body experiences” are better left to science fiction and the afterlife. 

So whatever we do, it is not because we are following the pattern of the incarnation of Jesus.

A second question is this: Should we harp on this word incarnational? Is there really that much mileage to be gained by objecting to its use?

My answer is, yes, kind of. I think it is actually pretty significant because Jesus’ mission is pretty unique, though I suppose “pretty unique” is like being “a little bit pregnant.” Neither pregnancy nor uniqueness admits to degrees. They are binary states: You either are or you are not.

“Incarnational” is just a bad word for it because it confuses what Jesus actually did with what we are to do. The Bible never uses the idea of incarnation for Christian living that I know of. It assumes that we are incarnate and it teaches us to go live like Christians while we are incarnate.

So what is the benefit of the word “incarnation”? At the risk of sounding harsh, I think it is possibly piety, meaning that it simply sounds betters because it connects us directly with Jesus. We can “love like Jesus did,” while not actually doing doing what Jesus did. It sounds so much better.

But I just don’t see the point of it. It confuses people about what incarnation really is, does not materially advance the cause, it is not something the NT expresses, and we have better ways to say it.

*I have forgotten which blog I got this quote from. My apologies for a lack of attribution to someone who reads more than I do.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Word of the Cross

For the word of the cross is foolishness
to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved
it is the power of God.
(1 Corinthians 1:18)

The Word of the Cross rang out from the Garden
Proclaiming destruction that surely would come.
The price for man’s sin would last through the ages.
The payment through Seed would bring man back home
The Serpent fights on with his minions beside him.
His reign he pursues through the passing of time.
The Seed of the Woman would suffer, but slightly,
The victory he’d win in the fullness of time.

The Word of the Cross rang out from the Prophets
Proclaiming Messiah, his kingdom on earth,
Announcing a Son to be born of a virgin,
A King who would die being judged of no worth.
His death He would face as a sheep bound for slaughter,
Injustice and judgment would take him away.
His blood He would shed as ransom for sinners;
His Kingdom would come at the dawning of day.

The Word of the Cross rang out from the Mountain
Proclaiming forgiveness as Jesus was torn.
The sins of the world were placed on the Savior
The ransom for many by faith to be born.
The Father’s just anger was met with His mercy,
The Father’s great love was revealed in Christ’s death.
Atonement for sin—now sin’s power is broken,
The payment was made through the God-Man’s last breath.

The Word of the Cross rang out from the Garden
Proclaiming the vict’ry o’er death and the grave.
The soldiers unconscious, the grave clothes lay folded.
The stone rolled away—Empty now was the cave.
The power of death was unable to hold Him,
Its sting was removed as his life He reclaimed.
Appearing to many He showed He was living.
Ascending to heaven He gave them His name.

The Word of the Cross rings out from the Body,
Proclaiming our union with Jesus our Lord.
The Church on its mission proclaims to all nations,
Declaring salvation that none can afford.
The gospel is preached by each one to his neighbors,
“Salvation from sin is in Jesus alone.
Our freedom is purchased, damnation is ended.
Repent and believe—with our Christ be made one.”

The Word of the Cross rings out to all nations,
Assembling a people to honor the Son.
His blood shed on Calv’ry cries out to each sinner,
“The price has been paid, now the victory is won.”
The Lamb slain for sinners now stands in the heavens,
Preparing His bride for eternity’s shore.
The victory is promised, His presence is with us.
Come join with the body in Christ evermore.

Opening Lines – Golf and the Church

Just as the church has become more tolerant on certain issues in recent decades, so too is golf equipment letting us get away with more on our mis-hits.

So begins an article entitled “How Forgiving Can an Iron Be and Still Look Like Something You’d Want to Play?” in the October 2010 issue of Golf Digest.

Puritanical title aside,  it strikes me as an odd place to see a church reference, not to mention a not so flattering way to reference a church.

It is true that the church has become more tolerant on certain issues. Depending on which issues are in focus, I am not convinced that is a good thing.

If you know me, you probably know that I play golf from time to time … at least a few times a year. And it’s well known that these days you can buy a better game. To cut that handicap down, you can skip the hours at the driving range and just hit the pro shop.

I am not saying that’s a bad thing in golf. In answer to the title question, based on the clubs I have seen, people show a remarkable ability to overlook ugly stuff if it works, or if they think it will work.

But church?

I think there are a lot of churches who have “bought a better game.” They are bigger, not because they are dedicated to the hard work of being a better disciple-maker but because they have used technology to leverage the show. And some of it is just plain ugly.

People are being entertained, not discipled. Ears are being tickled; worldviews aren’t being transformed.

I am not opposed to technology, design, and modern conveniences in the church. I use them.

And I not condemning everyone who does it differently than I do, nor those who have large churches.

But let’s be careful that we aren’t merely “buying a better” game that is a charade of the real thing.

Friday, October 22, 2010

MACP

Detroit Baptist Seminary’s Mid-America Conference on Preaching concluded today. The conference this year focused on the missional church movement. It was a rather large task—to summarize and then interact with the missional church movement.

Overall, I thought the conference was very good. Dave Doran, pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church and president of the seminary, spoke at all four main sessions. He did an admirable job of taking a rather large and sometimes nebulous idea and making it digestible in a brief period of time.

I have written about the missional idea recently here at my blog, and will be doing some more short articles on it in the near future.

But here’s some off-the-cuff remarks that are on my mind this evening that I am going to unload here.

This conference, along with my own thinking over the last decade since I first encountered the missional idea has convinced me of this: It is far more important to know your Bible and your community than it is to know what the newest incarnation of missional is.

I think there are some useful ideas in missional that I will highlight in coming articles. I also think there are some severe shortcomings and I will also point those out.

But the reality is that, in my opinion, there is nothing useful in missional that doesn’t spring from knowledge of the Bible and good old common sense about how to relate to people in your community.

You don’t have to know who Darrell Guder is to know that a community filled with people who haven’t finished high school won’t benefit much from a 12 week series on the relationship between Pauline justification and Aristotelian logic, or an exposition about the Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (the actual title of a rather longish book I saw today).

And a reading Christopher Wright won’t be needed to convince you that a lengthy study on evil of platonic dualism and its connection to proto-gnosticism probably won’t double your church this year (unless by “double” you mean empty seats).

It doesn’t take a class with Stetzer to figure out that if you live in a community with a lot of hungry people, having some sort of food bank or food pantry is a kind thing to do to make available for needy people when they ask. It won’t get people to heaven, but it may help them go to bed without being hungry. And that’s not the worst thing you could do.

(True story: A number of years ago, my wife and I took a bag of food to a mother who just given birth. While standing in her living room, she felt compelled to show me the fresh sutures from her C-section, and before I could say, “That’s okay, I don’t need to see it” she had pulled down her sweatpants. Somehow I have never seen a missional author lay out the proper response to that scenario. I suppose something like “Wow, that had to hurt” or “That’s quite a scar” would have fit well. Perhaps my uncharacteristic silence was a rare moment of wisdom.)

If you live in a neighborhood with a lot of single moms, having moms bring in children’s clothes for needy families won’t kill you. (I needed some this past week and had nothing to give her.) Now it won’t clothe them in Jesus’ righteousness, and Jesus didn’t die to provide Winnie-the-Pooh jammies for a little tyke, but it may keep a child warm during the winter.

Is that a bad thing to do? I don’t think so. It’s basic human decency. Later, I will tell you why I think this is a legitimate possibility (not a mandate) for a church to do.

Perhaps the biggest thing you can do to be usefully missional is to not spend several months listening to missional conferences and reading missional books. Rather, since “missional” means “sent,” then send yourself out. Get out of your office, take your headphones off, and walk the streets, and talk to people about their lives, their questions, their hurts, their happinesses, and their needs, their families, their jobs. Then ask a few questions. Probe. Ask why. Listen to their story.

You may want to meet their needs, answer their questions, cry with them, or buy them a gallon of milk, or maybe have someone else deliver the post-Caesarian food run … but above all, just shut up for a change and listen for a while.

It will do wonders for your preaching.

While I am rambling, this reminds me of Tim Keller teaching on preaching. He says you will preach to the people you talk to and listen to. If you spend your week listening only to books, commentaries, and ODGs, you will preach to those kind of people. If you spend your week in your neighborhood, in the coffee shops, in the parks, and reading your newspapers, you will preach to those kinds of people.

Why? I think it is because the people you talk to will create the questions that you are thinking about. Only then will you know how the gospel and the Bible reframes and reasks their questions. Perhaps on another occasion I will interact with this a bit. I don’t think its irrefutable; I do think it is helpful. Keller is not saying abandon the commentaries. He is saying talk to people.

Pastors, we can’t get up on Sunday mornings every week and feed our flocks if we haven’t spent any time with them.

But I digress, and am way off topic by now.

So what was my topic?

Ah yes, the MACP. Download the audio from this conference and listen to it. You and your church will be better off because of it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

From Edinburgh to Cape Town

As a conservative evangelical who reads history, I think Edinburgh ended really badly. It failed to value theology and formed a movement that would later de-emphasize conversion and focus on social justice and eventually walk away from so much of what they treasured at Edinburgh (Ed Stetzer).

I have to wonder if Cape Town is substantively any different? I am not holding out hope that the doctrinal foundations are any more secure in 2010 than they were in 1910.

I freely admit to not being at either Edinburgh or Cape Town. But what I have seen in the blogs and articles in the run up to Cape Town, I am not convinced that this Lausanne group yet has an handle on what the gospel actually is.

I hope I am wrong.

Missiologist David Hesslegrave writes on “Will We Correct the Edinburgh Error? Future Mission in Historical Perspective.” It would be worth your time as well. Others have recommended Arthur  Johnston’s The Battle for World Evangelism (though I am not sure this is still in print).

World evangelism needs a renewed commitment to the gospel itself. Will Cape Town lead this? In another hundred years (should the Lord tarry) will people be talking about the Cape Town error?

Shaping Little Minds



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Helping to create the next generation of thinkers.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Two Kinds of Missional

I have previously suggested that “missional” is like Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:23: It is all things to all men. I have previously linked to Ed Stetzer speaking of missional as a Rorshach Inkblot test: What you see in it depends on what’s going on in that little brain of yours. So, when we hear the word missional, we need to ask, “What do you mean by that?”

A conversation over the weekend sparked some additional thinking about the way that people use the word missional. I want to briefly address that this morning.

I would suggest that there is a spectrum of meaning of missional with two broad categories of use (with a lot of subcategories). The first is the popular usage. The second is the historical or original sense. I think we need to be careful to distinguish these two.

The popular usage is similar to a buzzword usage. People don’t really understand it’s historical underpinnings, or what it means to those “in the know.” But they see someone they like using it, or they hear someone making the rounds on the conference circuit use it, so they adopt it. For these, much of what’s in missional  is simply common sense ministry. 

For instance, just today Steve Davis (whom I don’t put in the category of buzzword user) highlights the idea of being out among people as the means of getting to know people because you need people to whom you proclaim the gospel in order to do the work of an evangelist and build the church. I like it. I think it’s absolutely necessary for ministry. I think it’s where many pastors are weak, myself included.

In this sense, missional means something like “be a Christian all the time, not just on Sundays and remember our ultimate priority with people is to evangelize people with the gospel.” When we help people with a car breakdown or raking leaves or when we are sitting on the porch talking or mingling at a community event, we are to do it with the gospel in mind, ultimately realizing that this person’s greatest need is a Savior.

I don’t think that is particularly cutting edge. It’s not exactly ground-breaking like inventing electricity or even inventing the internet.  I think it’s actually pretty straightforward NT thinking. It’s what believers are supposed to do.

It is missional only in the sense that people are being “sent out” away from the church gathered to live in their communities with a gospel mindset. It is the opposite of cloistering or ghetto-ing ourselves. We withdraw from the world only on Sundays for worship, and return to the world to live, work, serve, and evangelize for the other 167 hours or so. The church and the gospel is a way of life, not a Sunday morning diversion from life. The gospel is always to be front and center for us even away from the church gathered.

But that’s not new. It’s “rediscovery” is perhaps a testament to just how far the church has gotten from being biblical. It is, in one sense, an intentional condemnation of the seeker-church mentality that the way to evangelize is to invite people to some event (which missional people highly object to, even when they practice it).

I appreciate the emphasis of Steve’s article. I think one of the primary issues, particularly for pastors, is the priority of being around people who need to be evangelized. I am constantly thinking of my own need to be “out there” with people.

But I don’t think, historically, that’s what missional meant to many because it too closely ties proclamation to social consciousness. And here lies the other usage of missional. It is the academic/theoretical/philosophical use of missional. (Notice the absence of “theological” or “biblical.”) Much of what’s packed into this use of missional is little different than old theological liberalism that devalued or denied doctrine and gospel proclamation while emphasizing social issues. It’s the kind of missional that Brian McLaren is, alongside of everything else he is. People who use the term in this way object to the popular usage because they believe it corrupts the essence of missional by distorting the real meaning. 

Many of these proponents believe that mission is God at work building his kingdom completely apart from proclamation and largely apart from the church. Repairing social structures, eradicating poverty, and fighting for equality is the mission because the Kingdom of God surely has no such problems in it. It does not require the church. When the church does get “on mission,” it is merely finding what God is already doing in the world and joining him in it. For these, I think the mindset is that God is at work in the world, and if the church happens to be involved in it or built along the way, all the better. But the church is tangential, at best.

I think this is severely faulty, irredeemably incorrect, and indeed a false gospel—a false good news.

Many missional people (of the popular use) today would either completely disavow or strongly challenge this second view of missional. I am pretty sure Steve would dissociate himself from this. He rightly emphasizes the priority or the ultimate aim of proclamation. This is the position of someone like Keller as well.

The fact is that you haven’t preached the gospel until you have preached the gospel. All the good things in the world won’t take the place of telling people, “You are a great sinner in need of a great Savior,” and then explaining that the only suitable Savior is Jesus Christ. But many object to that, or at least do not see it as necessary. In so doing, they have denied the gospel, and this is a problem at the heart of some missional people. It’s why missional can be dangerous.

I think there is some helpfulness in the popular idea of missional.I think the other usage is mostly bankrupt.

I think there are some interesting questions to address on several facets. Here’s just a sample:

  1. What aspects of missional should we or can we embrace?
  2. How do we determine what biblical living looks like in our respective communities?
  3. How can we establish contacts and relationships in the community with the gospel in mind?
  4. How can mercy ministries be carried out inside the bounds of biblical instruction and the mandate of the church?
  5. What kind of missional ministries can we partner with to one degree or another? When has someone “crossed the line”?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Extension of the Kingdom?

At the risk of appearing like an old fuddy-duddy, I am going to go ahead and comment on this and this.

Let me start out by saying I think buying mosquito nets is a fine thing to do. I think mosquito nets are very valuable in certain areas of the world in that they protect from life-altering and sometimes fatal diseases. I have no issue at all with mosquito nets, people raising money for mosquito nets, sending mosquito nets to people who need them and can’t afford them, etc.

Here’s the problem I see. One commenter says, “Thank you for the opportunity to take action for the extension of His kingdom!”

Now admittedly, I am no scholar, but I am racking my brain trying to come up with something from the Bible about mosquito nets and the extension of the kingdom.

And I am totally blank.

The closest thing I am coming up with is the fly in Isaiah 7:18 and the locusts in Joel. I think there were some hornets back in the conquest, right? These were sent by God as judgment though, and I am thinking that it is not our job to try to stop the judgment of God. And I am thinking that while mosquitoes are, generally speaking, the result of the fall, they are not expressly the judgment of God on Central Africa (or anywhere else).

Obviously, I speak with a bit of hyperbole and satire, and some of you will be rankled by it. But seriously, in what sense can buying mosquito nets (a perfectly good thing to do) be labeled as an extension of the kingdom. I would argue that such can be said only in some vastly distorted view of the kingdom.

When Jesus came to “extend the kingdom” so to speak, he did it by preaching repentance and belief (Mark 1:14-15), not by buying mosquito nets.

And this leads to my point: We have a severe misunderstanding of the kingdom going on in modern day evangelicalism when we confuse the pursuit of the kingdom with the pursuit of social justice. Jesus did not come primarily to pursue social justice but to redeem sinners who have repented and believed and then to institute a kingdom of social justice.

Stunningly absent from some treatments of social justice is the fact that Jesus didn’t heal everybody, didn’t feed everybody, didn’t build houses for everybody (or anybody that I can recall, except for the ones in heaven). Jesus didn’t address racism. In fact, in one sense, he somewhat encouraged it (cf. the Syrophoenician woman and the Greeks at the festival to whom he refused to talk, though with the advent of the church, those ethnic distinctions are gone).

Buying mosquito nets, or feeding people at a soup kitchen, or running an addiction center, or fighting poverty and racism are all good things to do. But they are not “kingdom work” and they are not based on the ministry of Jesus because Jesus didn’t do those things.

Can you imagine someone standing up for social justice and saying this:

Listen folks, we know Jesus didn’t feed everyone. In fact, he fed very few people comparatively speaking (5000 and 4000). In fact, he prevented some people from eating when he cursed the fig tree so that it didn’t produce any more figs. We know he didn’t heal everyone. In fact, he let some people die. We know Jesus didn’t build houses for people. In fact, he himself didn’t even have one. In fact, almost all of his miracles were done only for those who already believed on him.

But we are going to follow Jesus and have food centers, and medical centers, and house-building groups, and mosquito net-buying groups because, bless God, we want to be like Jesus and we want to show people the love of Jesus and maybe these people will see these works and come to believe on Jesus.

Of course you can’t imagine that because Jesus didn’t show people his love by doing those things.

The point is that you can’t preach “incarnational ministry” from the life of Jesus because Jesus didn’t do what the incarnational people are talking about doing. When he helped the hungry, it was by a miracle, not a food pounding or a Thanksgiving soup kitchen. When he helped the sick, it was by instant healing, not a free clinic to give people medical advice and a seven-day round of antibiotics. So if you want to be “incarnational” like Jesus was, go do a miracle. Not one of the phony TBN miracles, but actually heal someone, or feed 5000 hungry men in your city with a loaf of bread and can of tuna.

I have no problem with food pantries, soup kitchens, rescue missions, medical centers, or the like. I think they are things we should do, probably more often than we do. I think we should have great concern for hurting and hopeless people. But let’s not blame that on Jesus. Jesus did none of those things in the way that people are saying we should do them.

I think this is one place (among others) where the missional idea goes off track. It assumes (wrongly) that we are to follow the ministry pattern of Jesus in social issues. But the NT simply does not bear that out. Jesus gave no command for it. The epistles give no command for it. There’s little NT evidence for the church’s widespread pursuit of social justice in society. The emphasis is on preaching Jesus, calling people to repent and believe, and then go and live like they repented and believed. There was no call (and no apparent attempt) to reform social structures and eliminate social ills. It simply isn’t there.

We need to go back and realize that the reason for the kingdom postponement (however your particular eschatology might shade that) is not because there was a failure of social justice in first century Palestine. It wasn’t because there weren’t enough blog sites raising money to buy mosquito nets or build schools, or enough people raking their neighbor’s leaves and picking up trash on the street in order to be like Jesus.

The postponement of the kingdom in the gospels is because of the lack of belief and repentance in the Messiah. That is why Jesus said, “This kingdom will be taken away from you and given to a people producing the fruit of it” (Matthew 21:43).

So my caution to us all is to be wary of pretending that social justice pursuits are the extension of the kingdom. They aren’t. We should pursue social justice. We should not think that it is kingdom work in this age.

Listen, I am not in favor of social injustice. I don’t want there to be poor and hungry people, racism, sickness, and mosquito-driven malaria. I just don’t see that Jesus came to save us from that.

We should be interested in the communities that we live in because, among other reasons, we have to live in them. Personally, I like it when my street is filled with decent people who treat others with respect, help others in need, watch out for each others houses and properties. I like it when medical help is readily available, when poor people can get food assistance in times of legitimate need, and when race barriers are being broken down.

I am not against any of these things. I am for them.

But that’s not kingdom work.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Others’ Thoughts on Missional and Unrelated Thoughts on History

In conjunction with my previous posts on what it means to be missional (and more posts to come shortly), here are some thoughts that I think are helpful, at least for those trying to understand the issues.

Perhaps I think it’s helpful because it repeats what I have already said, namely that missional means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and when someone uses it, we need to ask what they mean by it.

Here’s one drawback to the article:

Read the work of George Marsden, especially Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, which chronicles the missteps of both fundamentalism and left-wing evangelicalism in the last century. Surely we don’t think our generation or our camp is so sharp, so vigilant that we are above repeating such mistakes.

What about the missteps of “right-wing evangelicalism”? There seems a historical naiveté at work here that puts all the problems in “them” and “them.”

The disclaimer that we should be careful not to repeat such mistakes misses the fact that you (like all of us to some degree) are the recipients of mistakes made by our forefathers. In fact, I think in some ways, they continue the mistakes; they simply do not recognize that they are mistakes.

Now perhaps this author intends no such notion and I don’t want to read too much into this. However, I want to use it to make a point, namely, that implying that there were groups or segments without blame or “missteps” is historically incorrect. It is not helpful to further progress.

Implying that some of those missteps were less serious is hardly more helpful. The “legalism” of fundamentalism that confused the gospel for some is hardly worse than some of the philosophies of the then new evangelicalism that confused the gospel in others ways.

In fact, I suggest a case can be made that the steps of the “right-wing evangelicals” were the worst of them all precisely because of the confusing message that it sent. While fundamentalism may have been legalistic on some tangential matters (and they should not have been), no one in fundamentalism was confused about whether theological liberalism was a viable option or whether the Roman Catholic gospel was the true gospel. Yet because of well-meaning but unbiblical “right-wing evangelicalism,” some were confused by that, and still are.

No one mistook where the fundamentalists were (whether they were right or wrong). And no one mistook where the left-wing evangelicals were (whether they were right or wrong). But the so-called “right-wing evangelicals” created a fair amount of confusion that, in some regards, continues to this day in their descendants. One only needs to read the Marsden mentioned above to see that.

I, for one, applaud the firm stance on the gospel that seems renewed in this younger generation. I do not applaud what seems a lack of thoughtful discernment about some of the issues that, at least on the surface, appear tangential to the gospel. This generation, having received a renewed clarity on the gospel, now needs to examine carefully the implications of the gospel for all of life, not just the parts of life that may be convenient or popular.

In a conversation with a friend recently I remarked that this younger generation is going to have to be convinced that anything more than the gospel matters in terms of Christian fellowship.

I think such convincing is made more difficult by historical revisionism. I further think that the unwillingness to critically view the “right-wing evangelicals” of the middle-to-late twentieth church will only compound the problem.

Just because someone is a Christian does not mean that they are okay. We loudly proclaim that about fundamentalists (and we should). Let us not neglect to do so for others as well.

There is a reason that the Bible contains teaching on more than the gospel. It is because more than the gospel is important. We are instructed by the Bible about much more than the gospel. We should do no less than to seek it out and live it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Youthful Indiscretions or Ambitious Self-Defense?

In arecent article entitled “Why All Indiscretions Appear Youthful,” Benedict Carey reports on the findings of a study of of moral choices of people.

He says,

In recent years, psychologists have exposed ways that people subconsciously maintain and massage their moral self-image. They rate themselves as morally superior to the next person; overestimate the likelihood that they will act virtuously in the future; see their own good intentions as praiseworthy while dismissing others’ as inconsequential. And they soften their moral principles when doing a truly dirty job, like carrying out orders to exploit uninformed customers.

Dr. Jessica R. Escobedie says, “The main finding is that if I ask you to tell me about a positive moral memory, you’ll tell me something recent. If I ask you to tell me about a bad moral memory, you’re going to give me something from much further in the past.”

By this, the report concludes that “People honestly view their past in a morally critical light, but at the same time they tend to emphasize that they have been improving.”

Dr. Escobedo says, “The weirdest thing about reading about all these bad moral choices is that it make you kind of feel good about yourself. Just seeing how everyone makes mistakes and regrets not doing what was morally right: It makes you feel more attached to humanity.”

This seems to lead to several conclusions.

First, people are softer on themselves than they should be. By jettisoning poor moral choices to the distant past, they seem to fail to note that ten years from now, today’s moral choices will seem wrong to them, meaning that those choices are wrong now. They didn’t become wrong by ten years of reflection. They only became known as wrong by ten years of reflections.

Second, by having no external moral compass, they are left with nothing other than the passing of time to judge something as right or wrong. That is a sign of the poor moral judgment of people. It is a sign of immaturity, both to do it in the first place as well as to pretend that only things done in the past are morally wrong. Until we have an external moral compass, we will always be ten years behind in our moral evaluation.

Third, the fact that seeing other’s bad moral choices makes us feel better about ourselves reveals just how distorted the whole concept of “good self-image” really is. The pursuit of self-esteem is revealed yet again to be a poor substitute for meaningful living. The fact that I feel better because I see that everyone else is as big an idiot as I am should hardly be comforting, either to me or the people around me.

Fourth, and finally, it reveals that tagging old acts as youthful indiscretions from which we have grown only serves as an ambitious self-defense. “That was what I used to be” is not all that impressive. “I am much better than that now” does not hold a lot of water.

Personal growth is good. But asserting personal growth by means of “I did something wrong a long time ago” and “I see people around me who do the same thing” shows just how far we have come in human progress. Problem is, we have come the wrong way.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

You Can’t Make This Up

From a church’s statement of faith:

The Scriptures shall be interpreted according to their normal grammatical-historical meaning, and all issues of interpretation and meaning shall be determined by the pastor.

And this is a Baptist church … allegedly.

A few lines later, this same statement of faith says,

We believe that He [the Holy Spirit] is the divine Teacher who assists believers to understand and appropriate the Scriptures and that it is the privilege and duty of all the saved to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 1:17-18; 5:18; 1 John 2:20, 27).

So if the Holy Spirit assists believers to understand and appropriate the Scriptures, and if all issues of interpretation and meaning shall be determined by the pastor, is the pastor the Holy Spirit? Or is the Holy Spirit the assistant to the pastor?

Just who does he think he is? Or who does he think He is?

Friday, October 08, 2010

Millionaires Among Us

A man or woman who woks from age twenty-five to sixty-five and makes “only” $25,000 a year … will receive a million dollars. He or she will manage a fortune. Because we all will eventually give an account of our lives to God (Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10), one day everyone must answer these questions: Where did it all go? What did I spend it on? What has been accomplished for eternity through my use of all this wealth?

  — Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, p. 8

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Here and There

Here’s a list of the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods. What may surprise some is that the Detroit did not make the list (although they apparently didn’t consider the fact that the soon-to-be-my-house was recently broken into and all the copper was taken from the basement). Atlanta leads with four appearances and Chicago, Las Vegas, Memphis and Cleveland all have multiple appearances. Interestingly, Chattanooga and Louisville KY also both make the list.

And while I am talking about Detroit, here’s the first of three videos about Detroit. They are interesting, to me at least. Detroit is a graveyard of grand old buildings. Be warned that there is some pretty salty speech in a few places, so I encourage careful listening (or careful non-listening). You can trace the path to all three from this first link.

My friend Chris celebrates twelve years of Tri-County Bible Church. God has done some great things there, it sounds like.

I recently saw someone say that certain Calvinists don’t emphasize the cross of Christ very much in their evangelistic appeals. I can only guess that they have never heard people like C J Mahaney, Al Mohler, Mark Dever (or Driscoll), John MacArthur, Matt Chandler, or John Piper. Such a person can be excused for such an oversight. After all, these guys rarely speak anywhere, and when they do, hardly anyone ever blogs about it or tweets it. And MP3s of their preaching might as well be LPs, since there aren’t many of them and hardly anyone has the technology to play them anyway. (An LP is an old vinyl record for those of you born after 1980.)

Oh well … Enough for now.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Had No Idea

“A person with a felony record can become an attorney, but is barred for life from becoming a security guard at a mall.”*

There is a joke in there somewhere, but knowing I might get sued by someone unqualified to be a mall security guard is preventing me from telling it.

*Miriam Aukerman, “Criminal Convictions as a Barrier to Employment” in Michigan Bar Journal, Nov 2008, p. 33; MCL 338.1056; MCL 338.1067.

Ethnicity, Belief about Jesus, and the Makeup of Churches

Consider the following two statements:
  1. Jesus died and came back to life.
  2. Believing in Jesus makes a positive difference in a person’s life.
Now, consider this:
[20-29 year old] African-Americans have stronger agreement with both statements about Jesus than any other racial or ethnic group. Almost all African-American young adults (98 percent) agree that Jesus died and came back to life, and eight out of nine agree that believing in Jesus makes a positive difference in a person’s life. [My note: That’s over 20 points higher than the average.] On the other hand, only 59 percent of Anglos believe in the resurrection. Hispanics were similar to the total group, as 70 percent agreed that Jesus returned to life. Agreement that believing in Jesus made a positive difference in a person’s life was 75 percent for each of the non-African-American groups (Ed Stetzer, Lost and Found, pp. 28-29).

Here’s my question: Since 98 percent of young African-Americans say that they agree with us on these two very basic and foundational premises of Christianity, why are churches so seemingly underrepresented by young African-Americans?

It would seem that these would be right “in our wheelhouse” so to speak because we do not have to convince them of the truth of the resurrection or the impact of Jesus on a person’s life.

I think there are several reasons for consideration (anecdotal and observational, rather than scientific).

First, there is the influence of culture. African-Americans are typically brought in a more religious setting than non-African-Americans. It is part of their culture. They know the religious terminology. Most of them have grandmothers who took them to church, and talked to them about God. It’s particularly interesting to me to think of the number of people that I have talked to personally who claim to go to church, but don’t know the name of it, or where it is (aside from “that church over there”).

In my experience in my community, most African-Americans that I talk to claim to go to church and can actually identify the church that they claim to go to. Non-African-Americans are less likely to claim to attend church, and much less likely to be able to identify the church that they attend. Nonetheless, African-American culture seems more religiously knowledgeable and inclined than other cultures. 

Second, there is the influence of education. Stetzer reports that among young adult with college experience, “belief in the resurrection drops from 92 percent among the less educated (high school or less) to 63 percent among those with some college or a degree” (p. 31).

If it is true that African-Americans are less likely to have some college experience, it stands to reason that fewer of them have been talked out their received traditions. That is to say that they claim belief, but perhaps only because no one has talked them out of it yet. That’s not intended as any kind of slight. Remember, the percentages of all ethnic groups go down after some college experience. So those who have attended college are more likely to abandon belief in the resurrection, no matter their ethnicity.

It would be interesting to know the numbers broken down by ethnicity and education.

Whatever the case, it strikes me that perhaps at least some of this is our church culture. Before the “progressives” cheer and the “conservatives” tune out, let me say, I am not sure how important that is to worry about.

I think our church culture needs to reflect the gospel in our community. We do not necessarily need to reflect the community in our gospel. We need to understand our community culture, and minister inside of that culture as much as possible.

Of course we should not adapt the sinful elements of culture. But we should remember that we have no cultural mandate. We have a gospel mandate. And therefore, our entire community is our mandate.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Race Maps

Here are some interesting maps of some US cities color-coded by race. I recognized the top one as Detroit as soon as I saw it. The north red-blue dividing line is probably the famed 8 Mile Road. The pocket of red in the middle of the picture is probably the New Center Area and Wayne State University area. The pocket of orange in the center, just below the middle of the picture is Mexicantown. Our church is located just to the right of the blue section at the bottom of the map.



The data used to make this map is ten years old, but it is interesting nonetheless, not just in terms of racial grouping but also in terms of population density. My suspicion is that 30-40 years ago, this map would be more similar to the NYC map in terms of population density.

Here's a page with some information about the various neighborhoods in Detroit.

I wonder how this type of data might be useful for church planting. It seems that certain types of people are often best able to reach certain types of people. It seems to me that willingness is important, but it is not the sum total of a call to a particular location. I think there is a place for churches to steer people into places of ministry that they might best be suited for.

Obviously, there are some dangers with that. We don't have a heirarchy of bishops that assigns men to places of ministry. But we do have churches, knowledgeable pastors, and community residents who should be able to assess background, gifts, desires, and abilities to help guide young men (or older men) into ministry situations that best fit his ministry skills and heart.

The fact that someone feels called to a particular area is a start, but it is not the end. I have seen some good men fail at church planting because they were doing something that they apparently were not gifted to do, or perhaps doing it in an area to which they were not well-suited. This leads to great frustration, wasted money and effort, and sometimes abandonment of ministry altogether.

I think the local church's role in ordaining and commissioning pastors should be taken very seriously. How all that works out in a particular local church is obviously up to that church. But I would call us to consider the idea.