Stuck at Go- A Case Study in the Failure of Modern Evangelism

March 31, 2009

Since deciding to take this past year as a period of casual learning before jumping into seminary and formal pastoral education, I have found myself taking part in several church and generally “Christian” activities.  One of these is an evangelism group in which people are meeting weekly to learn a system of evangelism and then heading out to use it in attempt to reach people who have indicated an interest in our church.  To be honest, I am excited to be going out for evangelism and trying to take people the message of the cross every week, but I could give or take the particular system we are being trained in.

The system isn’t one of the fancy named deals like F.A.I.T.H. or Evangelism Explosion, but is a mixture of the general principles involved in these, all centered around the “Bridge to Life” tract put out by The Navigators.  I would imagine many Christians are familiar with this illustration; it is the one where man and God are separated over a chasm caused by sin and the only way for man to make it to God’s side is by the cross of Jesus, which allows him to choose eternal life over eternal destruction.  Now aside from the fact that this is an unabashedly Arminian presentation and that it utterly abuses passages such as 1 Timothy 2.5, Revelation 3.20, and John 6.47, this system does attempt to teach reconciliation with a righteous God through the grace of the cross and so I stomach going through it, even if I won’t necessarily plan on using it once on the field.

However, this past week, instead of being with my usual evangelism partner I teamed with another highly active member of my church, a slightly older guy (late 30′s-early 40′s), who serves as a deacon and teaches children’s Sunday School.  We had one prospect to visit, a Korean family who had come to our church the day before and who my partner casually knew through involvment in the public schools.  What happened during our visit was indicative of my greatest fears in the style of evangelism we have been taught, a style not that different from most other evangelical congregations, and served to further bolster in my mind the weakness of the modern Christian church’s view of salvation.

So we arrive at this person’s house, knock on the door, introduce ourselves, and get invited in.  We sit and make small talk for a minute, finding out what they thought of our church and how it was that they came to visit us.  Then, since my partner had a previous rapport with the family, I let him lead in with a testimony about his salvation experience and follow that up with the “key” question: “If you were to be in front of God for judgment tonight, what would you say to him about why he should let you into heaven?”  This, in some variation or another, is the basic first or second question in most contemporary evangelism schemes (the other being, “If you were to die tonight do you know where you would spend eternity?”), and their response is then used to lead into the gospel presentation if anything other than a “faith” answer is given.  However, on this night, the question was short circuited right from the start when our prospect told us that he is not particularly concerned with the afterlife but prefers to focus on how he lives his life today.  You could tell it from my partners eyes– our system has no ability to respond to that– and that is a problem.

Honestly, the objection that this man raised is (a) not in itself a bad train of thought, and (b) increasingly common in our postmodern culture.  Heck, I even find myself in this place often times, not that I don’t care about the afterlife, but that I find my motivation in living for God being more focused on how I serve him practically day-to-day and less in where I’ll go when I die.  The problem is, if a person really doesn’t invest too much in thinking about heaven and hell, what good does the “key” question do?  Moreover, why is it that we have left our congregations so inadequately prepared to deal with a very simple and prevalent kink in their system?  

This is one area of agreement that I have with the emerging/postmodern mindset.  We cannot just focus on trying to automatize evangelism and teaching God.  There are many legitimate variations on Christian thinking and experience that the modern evangelical framework is impotent at addressing, but that the church should not have any trouble dealing with.  Unless we train our people solidly in the Bible, and not just in some cute, 5-page presentation intended to astonish unbelievers into submission, there is no way that they will be able to stand a chance in the well read, broadly spiritual age we are living in, and their ignorance will continue the stigma against the church as being a simple-minded, anti-intellectual hot bed of judgmental radicals.  

The Scriptures really are sufficient, but unfortunately modern evangelism is neglecting a great portion of them in trying to advance easy believism, turn-or-burn Christianity.  This was one example how.

Taken Behind the Woodshed and Beat (part 2)- A Personal Review of “The Shack”

March 30, 2009

Yesterday we started into my review of the novel The Shack, with today being set aside to dissect what Young has written from a theological  side of things.  Now, it has been well documented that Young and his supporters are using the genre of fiction as a mask for any false teachings contained in this book, but since so many people think this story is of Pilgrim’s Progress standing I don’t think it is fair to evaluate the claims as anything less than what the author wishes for us to believe.  (And to be honest, I don’t know how comfortable I would feel attributing something to God, even God in my fiction novel, if I wasn’t pretty sure I believed it.)

First, I will say that not everything in this book is bad or disagreeable.  There are certainly points where the issues he raises or the statements he makes, though out of the evangelical mainstream, still carry more truth than not.  However, the sheer amount and magnitude of inaccuracy outweigh any positive that may exist.

So, let’s begin with the obvious, that being the author’s agenda in developing a Mother God (as well as a female Holy Spirit).  Of course it is true that God is neither male nor female, but that does little to change the fact that God is pretty much always presented as a father in Scripture.  Even taking the two places in the Old Testament where it is possible that God is represented as a mother (and not just being compared with a mother, which I think is more accurate), the overwhelming number of Scriptures about it, including the entirety of the New Testament, present God as father.  This is not just a product of male chauvinist society; it is biblical illustration.  Just because we have put so much value on feminism and egalitarianism does not mean that God gives a rip about being viewed equally as male and female.  Yet Young rides this image to death.  Again, in his elementary story writing technique, Young pushes this idea over and over and over until finally you want to yell “Enough!”  I mean, it’s almost too much constructing an excuse for calling a female God ‘Papa,’ but then to constantly remind us that the main character finds a female God hard to grasp is overkill.  Clearly this is in there for controversy, as a biblically defensible reason would seemingly fall on its face.

Next, consider the other image which Young beats to death in the book, that being the idea that both Jesus AND God the Father bear the scars from the cross.  There are two things wrong with this.  First, it is inaccurate.  It did not scar the Father to have his Son sacrificed.  In fact, it was the opposite.  Isaiah 53.10 says, “It was the will of the Lord (Father) to crush him (the Son).”  The Father was not tortured in doing this; through the sacrifice of his son, God was propitiated, which means that his righteous anger was satisfied.  God was satisified by the death of his son.  Obviously, this is not a popular message in the era of belief in the “divine child abuse” theory of the atonement, but it is Scriptural nonetheless.

The second reason why depicting scars on the Father and the Son is inaccurate is because this, along with the statement on page 101 that the whole Trinity made itself fully human and limited in the incarnation, advances an old, old, old heresy known as Sabellianism, or modalism.    This is the teaching that God exists in different modes as experienced by the believer.  It also historically teaches that God the Father suffered on the cross.  This heresy has been out of vogue for at least a good millenium and a half, but apparently is receiving a revival in the popular appeal of this book.  As a note, if a heresy is so false that it goes dormant for 1500 years, it is probably a good indication that it really is wrong.  Yet not only does Young present it, he goes back to it again and again by constantly retelling that the character of God the Father has scars on his wrists like Jesus.

The final issue that I would like to raise is the confusion in the book over salvation, how its accomplished, and who receives it.  Basically, from reading the passages on pages 161 through 166, page 184, page 194, and page 227, one must at least declare that Young is teaching to a very Arminian view of universal reconciliation, and is probably even promoting universalism.  In fact, on page 227 it says,

In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship. . . .  When Jesus forgave those who nailed him to the cross, they were no longer in his debt, nor mine.

And then, a few paragraphs lower it says,

When you forgive someone you certainly relaease him from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established.

Now, in reading that, there is no way left that a person could find to say this book promotes a biblical view of judgment as is portrayed in places like Matthew 25, 2 Thessalonians 1.9, or Revelation 20.  The worst someone can end up with is not being in “real relationship” with God.  However, no judgment, no separation, means that these people would be allowed into heaven, the New Jerusalem.  But this is a place where “God himself will be with” the inhabitants, so how can a person be there and not be in “real relationship” with God.  Honestly, I think the author is so confused in trying to be hip and tolerant, but only succeeds in leaving us with a completely impotent, indecisive, and inconsistent God.  It’s surprising how whenever we try and help God, we wind up only making him look weaker; Young demonstrates this to a tee.

So, let’s revisit Eugene Peterson’s quote once more:

[The Shack] has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his.  It’s that good!

Really?  Do we believe this looking back over all we’ve just said?  Now, I haven’t read Pilgrim’s Progress myself, but I had always thought it was supposed to be a pretty solid work done by a theologically-sound Calvinist.  Maybe, and I believe this is actually the case, Eugene Peterson has absolutely no idea what is good literature and even moreso what’s good theology.  Of course, keep in mind, he is the guy who wrote The Message, so . . .

Anyways, I’ll close with four words: don’t buy the hype.  This is not a life changing book, unless of course you read it and embrace all that it teaches, in which case you have just become a heretic.  Maybe that is strong language, but when I see a wolf like this coming in and devouring sheep the way it has I can find no better word.  Well, maybe one: pathetic.  Try reading the Bible instead.  It has a lot more to say than this glorified dollar bin crap.

Taken Behind the Woodshed and Beat (part 1)- A Personal Review of “The Shack”

March 29, 2009

Every once in a while something comes along which every Christian has an opinion on, even if it is not really based on any first-hand knowledge.  So it is with The Shack.  Some people love it, some people hate it, but regardless of if you have read it or not, you probably have an opinion about it.  Because I was among one of those who had not read it and yet had already formed my own opinion, and because the author is preparing to do two speaking engagements in my city, I decided it was probably time that I actually went through the book myself.  The following is my personal reaction after doing just that.

First, for those of you who don’t know, The Shack is a recent work of Christian fiction which follows a mourning father through an encounter with the Trinity in a shack in the Oregon woods over the course of a wintry weekend.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all three represented by unique persons who spend time both together and alone with the main character, Mackenzie “Mack” Philips, revealing to him the “true nature of God.”  Eugene Peterson says about it that, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his.  It’s that good.”  (More on that comment later.)

So what did I think?  Well, just to get it out of the way now, I think as a piece of literature this book was horrible.  The author lacks all understanding of subtlety, choosing instead to beat you over the head with certain images he deems important and completely missing the concept of foreshadowing.  Things like God’s dislike of Mack’s gun (cf. p.90) or the scars on God the Father’s wrists (cf. p.97) are repeated shamelessly and with the same words, making it perfectly obvious that the author wanted to make a point through them.  And even if you were interested in what was going to happen next, there never was much anticipation because the author continually short-circuited himself by giving way too much information or using “suspenseful” sentences eerily reminiscent of the ones my 8-year old daughter uses in her 2nd grade stories about evil elves.  

Of course, the coup-de-gras of insanity was the author’s diatribe (through the Holy Spirit) about how God’s “very essence is a verb” (p.206), with the example being that God is not about ‘expectation’ but ‘expectancy.’  Unfortunately for the author, who apparently was not an English major, even if it does sound cooler, ‘expectancy’ is also a noun.  That really should have been picked up somewhere, by the author or an editor or someone, and the fact that it wasn’t only serves to exemplify that this is not a book concerned with accuracy or understanding but only with causing problems.  I say all this not to berate the author, but to point out that those Christians who try and avoid the theological implications of what Young writes by claiming its just a good book don’t really have much of a leg to stand on.

Enough about literary theory however, what about the content?  Well, I think to begin with that it is awfully telling of the authors cowardice that he wastes no time in trying to distance himself from the claims of the book in case they are not taken too kindly by the evangelical community (pp.14-15).  He also did this at the end, just for good measure (p.249).  I do not have any patience for this.  If you are going to go out there and put something on the market which purports to be “Christian,” don’t do it just to cause dissension and controversy.  Either write in a theologically responsible way (which his disclaimers clearly indicate he was not) or label it as a secular novel.  Don’t put stuff out there that will easily confuse and mislead weaker believers, which is at the least what this book does.  There was never a time that I know of in CS Lewis’ writings that he tried to use the cloak of fiction to distance himself from the theological claims he made, yet today with people like Young and Brian McLaren, this has become the vogue way to be a heretic and not have to wear that moniker.

Come back tomorrow for the second half of this review where we will discuss what Young says about the Trinity and God’s purposes in his novel, The Shack.  Plus, on Tuesday or Wednesday I will be posting a review of William Paul Young the speaker and what he has to say about his novel when put on the spot.  This should also include an audio file of the event, so make sure to check in for further information about The Shack and William Paul Young in the days to come.

Imagine a Red, Horny, Hoof-footed Menace- Why Christian Mythology is So Dangerous

March 28, 2009

In my last post I discussed the recent Nightline Face Off between Team Driscoll and Team Deepak over the question “Does Satan Exist?”  It was a very illuminating debate and was of particular interest to me to see the ways in which Deepak Chopra attempted to use his New Age metaphysical approach to explain evil. However, as I watched it there was one thing that stuck out most to me, though I shouldn’t have been surprised by it, that being the amount of Christian mythology being brought to the table in dealing with this question.

Christian mythology is something that all of us are familiar with.  It is the overlaying of centuries of tradition and perversion of biblical teachings that result in apocryphal/extra-biblical ideas explaining and describing various facets of Christian experience.  We all participate in it, if only as a hearer, and yet very rarely do we call attention to it.  

A prime example of this is angelology, where people have taken the relatively small amount of information concerning angels in the Bible and expounded it into a whole subject with numerous charaters and stories (myths).   Did you know that the Bible never mentions any angel bearing the name Raphael?  Or that a cherub is not a cute baby angel in a diaper but is described in Ezekiel as being a creature with four faces and four wings, among other odd characteristics?  (I bet your grandma doesn’t have a statue of that on her mantle!)  So clearly, there is a lot of mythology that has come to be peppered into our understanding of biblical teachings.

Christian mythology is also very much at work within the narrative of Satan, where we have created a whole realm of understanding about who he is, where he came from, what he looks like, &tc., that is far and beyond what can be gleaned from Scripture.  We say that Satan is red, hooved, with horns and a pitchfork; that he was God’s worship leader before trying to be God, at which point he was cast down to earth.  Many believe that he is omnipresent just like God, that he is God’s equal and his necessary counterpart.  Unfortunately, pretty much all I just said is bogus, and yet somehow managed to be spoken as truth (or at least as biblical teaching) at the Face Off event.  That’s a problem.

I say this is a problem, not just because it is a misrepresentation of God’s revealed word, but because it truly is dangerous to Christianity, as was displayed by Deepak Chopra’s teammate, “Bishop” Carlton Pearson.  You see, when we allow Christian mythology to become confused with Christian truth, we are allowing what is real and attested and defensible to be replaced by what is false, fantastical, and full of more holes than swiss cheese.  At one point we created a big scary red beast to provoke an adequate fear of the devil, but now that same image of a pitchfork carrying, goatee wearing sadist give an opening for skeptics to ridicule our beliefs.  At one point we weren’t satisfied with resting on what the Bible taught and setting our hearts on holding to that truth, so now we have all but disqualified ourselves from legitimate conversation because our beliefs are so comical and rested upon human tradition, not the infallible Word of God.

Actually, the place where this bothers me most is in our mythical understanding of heaven.  While growing up I remember being sold on the image of a place where I could climb trees everyday, and if I fell out of one I would not get hurt.  Today, I look around the church and see many adults whose conception of it is not much different, waxing poetic about the crowns and jewels and thrones that they will have, the open land and beautiful fishing locales.  Yet, besides going much further than anything the Bible ever portrays, this type of thinking on heaven just seems to completely miss the point.  For one thing, if you read 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corninthians 15,  or Revelation 21, you will see that the place we are resting forever is not on a cloud in a disembodied spirit, but instead on the earth (a new earth) in resurrected, glorified bodies.  Plus, check out Revelation 21.3:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

If anything is the point, that’s it.  Not that we can have our wildest dreams and run around all day in the most beautiful places imaginable, but that finally the presence of God can dwell with us again in the way he had intended from the very beginning.  Maybe that’s not enough for you, as I imagine is why the whole self-centered vision of heaven came about in the first place, but it is what’s taught in the Scriptures, and honestly, I can’t imagine anything better, even if heaven had me owning seats behind homeplate at Fenway Park.

If we are going to see Christianity being taken seriously by the world again, we must quit this crap.  It is bad enough that we have entire denominations devoted to maligning God’s Word with interpretations that allow gay bishops and multiple ways to salvation, but let’s not compound it by surrounding otherwise good theology with all these flea market ideations that make the whole package just look tacky and unappealing.  There is nothing more desirable than the truth of what God has shown us, let’s stop dressing it up with our own myths so that its natural glory can shine through.

What the Devil?- Cultural Commentators Debate the Existence of Satan

March 27, 2009

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.  He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’

With this, which is Genesis 3.1, we are introduced to evil and to the head of all evil, “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2.2), Satan.  From this point forward Satan is ever-present in the Scriptures, reappearing in name in such passages as 1 Chronicles 21.1, Job 1.6-2.7, Zechariah 3.1, Matthew 4.10, and Revelation 20.2, and in allusion in places like Matthew 4.1, 12.24-27, 2 Corinthians 11.3, John 12.31, and 1 John 2.13.  Still with all of the evidence, many people today, including a number of “Christians,” are finding it sexy to deny that Satan actually exists.

It is because of this that ABC News recently held a Face Off debate, asking the question “Does Satan Exist?”  And to be honest, though I don’t know their intentions, they seemed to do a good job.  If nothing else, the lineup held promise, and a promise on which it delivered.  There were four participants in all, but the two headliners were on one side, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA, and on the other New Age guru/philosopher/metaphysician Deepak Chopra.  When I heard these two would be facing off I knew it would be worth watching.

One highlight of the night was the following exchange:

  • Deepak: Thank you for having at least the intention of saving me.  I don’t know what I would do in the absence of people like you.
  • Driscoll: I love you and I want good for you
  • Deepak: Thank you sir
  • Driscoll: I do
  • Deepak: Thank you.  I’m really okay, you know.  I don’t need the devil because I don’t have the guilt and shame that you people have
  • Driscoll: I don’t have guilt and shame.  I used to.  I used to, and then being forgiven, listen, and then I don’t need to rejoice in myself, I get the joy of thanking someone rather than being proud.


  • Deepak: Everyone is saying what they’re saying from their level of consciousness and actually there is no need for debate here because everyone totally believes in their truth.
  • Moderator: Well, the debate is not for you guys it is for the people at home . . . 
  • Deepak: Yeah, okay
  • Moderator:  . . .  and they may be learning something

Honestly, at times the arrogance of Chopra and his teammate, “Bishop” Carlton Pearson, was about too much, and I was extremely proud of how Driscoll handled it.  I know myself watching it that I wanted to just blast the deniers side, but in proper Christian charity Driscoll well-represented the message of the gospel and the true love of Christ (which I’m sure some people would have as much trouble believing as Deepak does the devil).

Below I have linked the 10 parts of the full debate off of YouTube.  If you have the time and interest you should check it out.  This is certainly not a question that is going to go away anytime soon.

Part 12, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Enjoy and please be prepared to join in the debate as well.

Now, Where Did I Put my Darn Christianity?- Al Mohler on the Loss of Christian Memory

March 26, 2009

If I needed to find something out about Christianity and culture in today’s world, probably the first place I would turn would be to Dr. Al Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  His depth of knowledge of all that is going on affecting Christians in the world today is completely astounding.  They say that he has TV’s everywhere in his room broadcasting news from across the world and that he sleeps maybe 3-4 hours a night, which is why he is able to be so on top of things.  This may or may not be true, but regardless it seems like the only adequate solution for how someone could know as much as Mohler always does about current events.

One event in particular that Mohler has his finger on the pulse of is the loss of a collective Christian memory in 21st century New England.  By the “loss of Christian memory” we mean that the people have become so far away from the church and their Christian heritage that no residual effects of biblical Christian thinking seem to remain as an influence on their worldview.   (I actually have spoken about this idea at length in a previous series entitled The Laodicean Project.)  As Dr. Mohler notes, currently the people of New England are so far along the path towards secularization that the number of inhabitants checking “None” for religious affiliation is starting to rival  the number checking “Roman Catholicism” and “Protestant.”  Of course, as anyone can tell you, the number of “None’s” is generally an underestimate, representing  people who have managed to overcome the guilt that might make them want to check a Christian affiliation even though it does not describe them, and so this data is all the more troubling.

The consequences of this that Mohler sees, at least on the immediate horizon, is that it is leading to an increasing support for same-sex marriage in these states.  Though same-sex marriage has been prohibited in all states where it has come up for a popular vote, there are a number of states in New England which are approaching legislative action that would make this practice legal in them.

This is unnerving, but far worse than this is that, by losing their Christian memory, the people are getting to a point where they can no longer reasonably be expected to stumble upon Christianity at some point in their lives.  With a loss of Christian memory we lose a familiarity with the gospel message, and so as things start to go downhill they just pick up momentum and become all the more fabulously depraved since there are no roadblocks in the conscience calling people back to the biblical design.  What is even sadder is that this is happening in what once was the hot-bed of Christian thought in this country, where Jonathon Edwards preached and saw revival occur and several devout academic institutions opened to provide seminary education for the men of that region.

Dr. Mohler captures all of this in a new article on his blog and I strongly suggest you read it.  I am not as concerned with the possibility of legalized same-sex marriage as I am with his cultural commentary.  Even if it didn’t influence same-sex marriage decisions, the loss of Christian memory can hardly be viewed as a good thing, and so seeing it addressed in any fashion is important for us to check out.

This is where my heart is.  I want to be inside the post-Christian culture this loss has created, working to plant churches that will see lives transformed through a reintroduction of the gospel fire there.  If you feel the same, please act on it.  Right now the church is guilty of simply assuming these people are reached and so do not need the missionary attention that places like Africa and South America do, but in a sense they are just as frontier as any of those places.  Thus, we must go there, present the gospel, minister to the people, and pray that God will reawaken that Christian memory that has slowly slipped away.  

Read Dr. Mohler’s post on this here.

What We Believe- Article X, Last Things

March 25, 2009

Finally we have reached the place in the Baptist Faith & Message where we discuss the end times.  Here is what it has to say:

X. Last Things

God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.

Isaiah 2:4; 11:9; Matthew 16:27; 18:8-9; 19:28; 24:27,30,36,44; 25:31-46; 26:64; Mark 8:38; 9:43-48; Luke 12:40,48; 16:19-26; 17:22-37; 21:27-28; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; 17:31; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 15:24-28,35-58; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 1:5; 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 5:1ff.; 2 Thessalonians 1:7ff.; 2; 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:1,8; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:27-28; James 5:8; 2 Peter 3:7ff.; 1 John 2:28; 3:2; Jude 14; Revelation 1:18; 3:11; 20:1-22:13.

I will be honest right out the gate.  There is an extent to which I like studying eschatology, and then there is a level at which I have almost absolutely no interest in going (at least at this point in my life).  I don’t know if this is a personal reaction to the madness in our lifetimes surrounding the Left Behind series, or if it is more deeply theological in that most people who obsess over the end times seem to accompany it with a biblical interpretation of God’s plan that I mostly reject (i.e. Dispensationalism), but whatever it is, if the discussion gets too far into specifics of time, place, seals, and signs, I usually bow out.

That said, I am pretty happy with where the BF&M goes here.  It presents the level of biblical surety which I embrace, and actually enjoy for what it reveals of God, while avoiding the speculative sign-watching that I see many Christians using to perpetuate their pessimism about the depravity of the world.  (As a side note, I think it’s funny that most people who watch for signs of the end times get so fixated on the depravity that they see as foretelling it, and yet soteriologically they often reject the fact that mankind is totally depraved.)

Let’s look at what is said:

  • “God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end.” 

I completely agree.  I think the Old and the New Testaments are clear that there looms a great day of either judgment or salvation (cf. Joel 2.1-11, 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11, 2 Peter 3.10), a day that the New Testament reveals will be the consumation of all things, the end of the natural order (cf. Matthew 24.3-14, Romans 8.18-25, Revelation 21.1-2).

  • “According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness.”

Christ is fairly adamant that at the end he will return himself to reign over mankind, either as judge or saviour-king (cf. Matthew 24-25, John 5.25-29), and the New Testament authors speak frequently of the resurrection and judgment (cf. 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, 2 Thessalonians 1.5-12, 2 Peter 3.10, Revelation 20).  Their is great controversy over when exactly in history the rapture and resurrection of the dead will take place, and yet mostly I think this debate is for naught.  What is important is that it will occur and, as Mark Driscoll says, if people are going early then I’ll go, if not then I won’t.  Whether the rapture is prior to a tribulation, after a tribulation, or whatever, that doesn’t change how we’re supposed to respond in the here and now, and what has become many people’s inordinate fixation on “leaving this world” is most certainly not the focus of the New Testament teachings here.

  • “The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.”

Let’s not overlook this.  So many today want to pretend like this isn’t the case, but as long as 2 Thessalonians 1.9 is in the Bible, it will be hard to make that reasoning stick: “[Those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”  Whether we try to minimalize it with nihilist theories, or go all out and claim that God is secretly planning universal salvation, these can only hope to fall flat as “comforts” in light of genuine New Testament Scripture.

  • “The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.”

This is the only place I jump off a little from the BF&M.  I fully believe that the righteous (i.e. believers) will receive glorified bodies in the end and will dwell forever with the Lord, but the language of “reward” and our dwelling in “Heaven” are places where I think we sometimes fudge what is actually said.  

To begin with, I think there is way too much emphasis on “reward” and “treasure,” when I believe it is har to read the New Testament and see that we are fully indebted to God’s mercy for salvation and that the point of this salvation is that we may live to glorify for him and not to build up treasure for ourselves.  Yet most Baptist churches have a much more developed theology of reward and what I’m earning for myself than they do a theology of grace and mercy.

Secondly, the evangelical, pie-in-the-sky, ethereal realm of Heaven is a constant frustration to me.  We must define what “Heaven” is and take an honest look at where it says we’ll be.  I mean, the BF&M even states that we will have “resurrected and glorified bodies,” but why would we need those to go float around on the fluffy clouds of heaven with our wings and harps and such?  The answer is, we don’t.  But, if we realize that we are not going to some heavenly place in the sky, but that some heavenly place is coming down to us on earth, then the need for bodies there makes perfect sense (cf. Revelation 21.1-4).  We will be made to live in the New Jerusalem, a place on the new earth, an city prepared in heaven (Hebrews 11.13-16, 13.14), in which God shall dwell with us forever.

In closing, I do think it is important to look towards the closing bell.  In fact, one of my favorite rabbits to chase in Scripture is the preparation of God’s people and their unending pursuit of the Promised Land, a pursuit which started in Genesis 15 and is not completely fulfilled until the coming of the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21.  However, to go further than this and spend undue time in mapping out specific events through speculation and Christian mythology misses the point of what we are to be doing, which is glorifying God and fulfilling the Great Commission.  Amen.

Stop and Turn!- Developing the Doctrine of Repentance with Matt Chandler

March 24, 2009

When it comes to salvation there is always a question of just what role man plays in the act.  On a large scale, this is the Calvinism v. Arminianism debate.  However, on a local scale we can (most) all agree that whether God chooses us or we choose him, the clear teaching of Scripture is that man is resposnible for repenting of his sins.  This is displayed clearly in Acts 2.37-38,

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Repent and be baptized!  That’s why I’m a Baptist!  (Well, not the only reason.)  But seriously, if ever we could hope for a clear response in Scripture here it is.  The people ask what they need to do and Peter tells them.  Case closed.

So, knowing that repentance is a necessary response to God’s spirit of conviction in our hearts, it is then encumbent upon us to work out what authentic repentance is, both for ourselves and for testing others, since it is not too hard to imagine false repentance being offered instead of the real thing.  It is because of this that we find passages such as 2 Corinthians 7.8-10 which distinguish for us between worldly and Godly grief.

Seeing this question and knowing its importance to the people of the church has led Matt Chandler of The Village Church (Dallas, TX) to develop a sermon series aimed at just that.  For the past couple of weeks (and I think at least one more to come), Chandler has been walking his church, and those of us who join with them by podcast, through what authentic repentance and Godly grief look like, how to cultivate it, and how not to get discouraged and fall into the imposter varieties.  Below I have posted what has been spoken so far (and I will update as more become available), so please take the time to check them out.  Its hard to believe you won’t find this to be a good investment of your time.  Enjoy!

Matt Chandler- A Jealous God (Repentance, part 1)

Matt Chandler- Good Guilt (Repentance, part 2)

Matt Chandler- A Theology of Struggle (Repentance, part 3)

Kill the Self!- Further Ranting on the Sad State of Individualism in Our Churches

March 22, 2009

Indulge me for a minute, but I think I just want to take a day to stand on my soapbox once more.  Yesterday I spoke on the idea of corporate repentance and how it is what we should be seeking when we realize that we’ve been engaged in a corporate lifestyle of sin as the people of God.  I also spoke earlier this week about community and how God gave us the church as a collection of people so that we would not be forced to suffer alone.  I think these two things are interrelated in a very pertinent way.  We have elevated the role and the responsibility of the individual so high that it is the ultimate end of our gathering.  We don’t even have any conceptual frame for the covenant community of the church as it was meant to be all along, and so when we engage God’s Word on Sunday morning– which, let’s face it, is the only time when most people are really engaging God’s Word– we approach it with a fully self-centered mindset.  ”What can I get out of this?”  ”What must I do now?”  ”What do the Scriptures have to say to me?”

This is wrong.  And here’s what it does.  It makes us, as Christians, when we evangelize, to say things like, “You need to get things right with the Lord!”  Like we’ve got it all together and were just waiting for you to catch on.  I heard a speaker Friday night and he was talking about Christians and he said that people can tell who Christians are because they have “Peace, purpose, and direction.”  Now, I don’t know about you, but I know a lot of Christians, and very few of them embody all of these characteristics.  As a matter of fact, I know several Christians who I would say don’t possess any of these.  Yet when we present the gospel as “you getting your crap together with God”  (that’s essential what this is saying, right?), then how else should it come off but as a calm, collected, mentally stable individual.  That’s what God wants, isn’t it?

Of course not!  And what could be more isolating than telling someone that being a Christian means you have it all lined up, all figured out?  If this is the case, when exactly was the apostle Peter saved?  He doesn’t seem to have much peace in Galatians 2 when he is too concerned about his image with the Jewish Christians to do what is right in regards to the Gentile Christians.  None of us would say that a Christian has to be sinless, but practically that is the standard we are setting.  No room for doubt.  No room for confusion about our purpose in some circumstance.  Christians are individuals who have it all together.  

So, if that is the case, why bother with the church?  A few chapters after we see a rather confused Peter, we receive this instruction from Paul: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load” (Galatians 6.1-5).  In the church, we are to correct those who step out of line (like Peter), but we’re also to bear with the burden’s of each other.  Does that picture a collection of people who are individually good-to-go, who individually have everything worked out, peaceful and right where it’s supposed to be?  Certainly not.  It pictures a hot mess of imperfect people struggling to keep their heads above water as they try to understand the purpose of their new heart and survive the battle between it and the sinful flesh which they still reside in!  This is what the church is composed of.  Not individuals who are “right with God,” but a body of people who all have the shared the experience of “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3.5) and now are constantly at the foot of the cross trying to figure out what the heck happens next.

We have to find some way to bite this rampant individualism in the bud before it kills off anymore of our people.  When the question of assurance is always framed in the individual context, of if you have peace with God, if you understand your purpose, if you know the direction of your life, then it is a scary, lonely road– one which we feel like we are unable to invite others to walk along with us.  Too many people sit clammed up on Sunday morning because they buy the facades that everyone else has put up;  facades that declare our “Christianity” because they demonstrate how put together we are.  Unless we can blast through that crap and see that all of us are just a bunch of broken vessels that God has had mercy on though we in no way deserve it, we are only going to continue alienating people and building a church which is no church at all but just a smattering of people sitting alone in the pews, carefully avoiding being exposed.

There’s No ‘I’ in ‘Corporate’- Recovering a Biblical View of Repentance for the Church

March 21, 2009

For this week’s Sunday School lesson I have been studying chapters 29 and 30 of the book of Isaiah.  In these passages we see various warnings and condemnations directed at the people of Israel.  I particularly found myself keying in on verses 12 through 14 of chapter 30:

Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,”Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them, therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant; and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

The accusal of despising God’s instruction (cf. 30.9) through relying on “oppression and perverseness”  really hit me as a horrific charge, and the subsequent images of a pregnant, forbodeing wall crashing down and a dish being obliterated made this all the more moving.  If there is anything that Christians today major in it is trusting in oppression and perverseness in place of a right regard for the Word of God, and to be able to open a discussion of this on Sunday morning should certainly generate plenty of thought as to just how we are guilty of this.

However, as I continued working on the lesson, I knew that I wanted to wrap up with how we should respond.  Of course, the typical idea for response would be to present the gospel and present Christ as the eternal, unchanging savior who died once for all to pay for our sins– this is correct certainly.  But, thinking about the recent emphasis in my life on working through our issues in a true covenant community, I noticed something else about the charge: it is directed to “a rebellious people.”  This is not just the failing of one person, some ostracized screw up out of the people of God; this is an indictment of the whole nation.  Yet even that isn’t such a great revelation, as we know so much in the Old Testament, particularly the prophets, is an acknowledgment and warning over the failings of the whole people.  What really struck me was this: if the condemnation fell against the whole people, then how were they supposed to respond?  As individuals?  No.  They were supposed to correct it as a whole people as well!

The perfect picture of this would be the response of post-exilic Israel in Nehemiah 9.  Following a renewal of understanding in the law and of the transgressions which they had committed leading to their exile from Jerusalem, this is what Nehemiah says about their response:

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.  And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God. (Nehemiah 9.1-3)

These people stood, confronted with their sins, with the years of rebellion and following the ways of the world right before them, and corporately they rallied together, opened God’s Word, and confessed their sins.  As a people, they separated themselves from those outside the covenant and confessed together where they had gone wrong.

Likewise, why should we not join with the others in the church, all of us who have in one way or another despised what God has commanded, and be in repentance together?  Sure we have examples of personal sin and personal repentance (see David in 2 Samuel 12 and Psalm 51), and we are all responsible for our own individual sin (Ezekiel 18.20), but we also  frequently see the people repenting as a whole because they were all guilty of some sin that had crept into their collective,  accepted way of life.  So are we, so is the church.  We are all guilty.  We are all complicit in rebellion together.  Yet never do we call for corporate repentance for what we’ve done wrong.  

It is my belief that we will see a greater, quicker, and more lasting change in the church, in all of Christianity, if we were to learn how to do this.  How to not sit back every Sunday and pretend like we’ve got it all together.  Like we did not in some way despise God’s Word this week, did not rely on oppression and perverseness instead.  No, we just sit around and wait until someone is caught in “unacceptable” sins and then harass them into individual repentance; which only serves to make us more self-righteous and smug as we continue strolling down the road of rebellion ourselves.  We must confront the sins that we are all guilty of– self-sufficiency, pride, slander, materialism.  It’s all there, we know it is.  But every Sunday it is just the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

God charged the whole nation for their  sins, and it took the whole nation joining back together in recognition of their corporate failings to rightly repent and return the people to their God.  Can we embrace this idea as well?