Does “Love” Excuse Us from Right Doctrine?- Quick Thoughts on Derek Webb’s Song “What Matters More”

July 9, 2009

[Warning: for those of you who are offended by swearing, the linked music contains some vulgar language.]

For those of you who think it is not important to keep up with the emergent church movement (ECM) then let this be a warning: this is what’s going on in the broader world of American Christianity while we sit and fight stupid denominational battles about things like if we can accept Calvinists or not.

I hate this.

If you think that we have a problem with people moving towards the doctrines of grace . . . OPEN YOUR EYES!  We have a problem with the church moving away from the Bible.

Brian McLaren calls this song “important and courageous.”  He compares it with a post where he said that “many if not most Christians in the US remain focused on the ‘religious arguments’ list [versus a list of global crises]” (read more here).  And you know what?  He’s right.  Many if not most of us are so focused on our ridiculous arguments against Calvinists ruining families or trying to get Mark Driscoll banned from LifeWay bookstores or keeping Southern Baptists from working in places that sell booze that we totally neglect the whole world in need of a God who is mighty to save.

However, just because we are neglecting this does not mean that everyone is.  No.  In fact, there are plenty of “Christians” like McLaren who are very focused upon these problems.  And guess what?  They don’t care at all about theology.  I don’t mean they don’t care about if you are Calvinist/non-Calvinist/Arminian or Abstentionist/Moderationist, I mean they don’t care if you believe in hell or justification by faith or that Jesus was fully God and fully man.  They don’t care if God exists as three persons in one or if the Bible is truly God’s infallible, inerrant revealed word for us today.  They don’t care one bit.  All they care about is “love.”  And because of this, they are getting an audience with the world.  Never mind if it is grace without truth since there is no one there to bring grace AND truth at the same time anyways.

Is there a need for a Great Commission Resurgence?  I believe there is.  And for those of you who say, “Well golly gee, our church is already focused on the Great Commission,” I present this song, and the rising popularity of man-centered, antinomian, pelagian Emergent “Christianity” as Exhibit A in my defense.

What We Believe- Article XVIII, The Family, part 1

July 6, 2009

After leaving off for awhile (accidentally actually) we are finally coming to the end of our analysis of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.  The last article that we will be looking at is Article XVIII concerning the family:

XVIII. The Family

God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.

Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.

The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. Parents are to demonstrate to their children God’s pattern for marriage. Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent lifestyle example and loving discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. Children are to honor and obey their parents.

Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15-25; 3:1-20; Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Joshua 24:15; 1 Samuel 1:26-28; Psalms 51:5; 78:1-8; 127; 128; 139:13-16; Proverbs 1:8; 5:15-20; 6:20-22; 12:4; 13:24; 14:1; 17:6; 18:22; 22:6,15; 23:13-14; 24:3; 29:15,17; 31:10-31; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; 9:9; Malachi 2:14-16; Matthew 5:31-32; 18:2-5; 19:3-9; Mark 10:6-12; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 7:1-16; Ephesians 5:21-33; 6:1-4; Colossians 3:18-21; 1 Timothy 5:8,14; 2 Timothy 1:3-5; Titus 2:3-5; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Peter 3:1-7.

This last article, which actually did not appear in the BF&M until 1998 (so, 35 years after the second version of the document was published).  It is basically ordered into four distinct parts corresponding to the four different paragraphs.  The parts are (1) the definition of family, (2) the definition marriage, (3) the practice of marriage, and (4) the practice of child-rearing.  In this post we will handle parts 1 and 2 and tomorrow we will cover parts 3 and 4.

  1. The Definition of Family:

“God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.”

From the outset this is a very logically flowing article.  Clearly this article was necessitated by specific societal changes, particularly in regards to the increasing acceptance of  pre- and extra-marital activity and the advance of the “alternative lifestyle” movement in America.  But nonetheless, for what has its impetus as a political response, this article comes across, at least in my eyes, as the most well-reasoned and biblically justified article in the practical living portion of the BF&M (starting from Article XI).

As for the definition itself, it seems airtight biblically.  God did certainly ordain the family within the first two chapters of Genesis, and the reference to “marriage, blood, or adoption” leaps straight from the text of Scripture, where entrance into a family by adoption has such great significance.  This definition, of course, now begs the question which is addressed in the next paragraph, namely, How does one define marriage?

2.   The Definition of Marriage

“Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.”

Wow!  That first sentence carries some serious weight!  We can all agree that marriage is the uniting of two individuals as one (cf. Genesis 2.24), and as long as we are being honest and not just pushing some agenda we can read fairly clearly that this uniting is to take place between one woman and one man.  Yet even after that we get a statement which is likely controversial to many Southern Baptists: ” . . . in covenant commitment for a lifetime.”  Now, I don’t know about you, but that seems to me to be saying that divorce for any reason is not God’s design for his creation, especially since this topic is not spoken to anywhere else in the article.  Many people believe loopholes and exceptions exist for divorce, but if my reading of the BF&M2000 is correct then our organizing document takes a much stricter stance than the norm.

In the next, extended sentence, we find the writers adding detail and explanation to the truth found in Ephesians 5.23-24 as well as addressing several practical concerns.  They take a stance that marriage is intended for biblically appropriate sexual expression (try getting clarification on that one beyond the obvious disallowal of homosexual activity) and that marriage is the appropriate context for producing children (instead of pre- or extra-marital relationships).  All of this I think we can be on-board with without much hesitation.

Now, in the next paragraph we jump into a pot of boiling water by trying to address gender roles in marriage, which we will struggle through in tomorrow’s post.

Revolutionary Christianity- Living the Revolutionary Lifestyle in Condemnation

May 21, 2009

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23

” ‘You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.’ … ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ “ – Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28

” ‘Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.’ “ – Luke 6:41-42

One of the biggest places where Christians fail to live the revolutionary lifestyle is in their condemnation of sin in the world. It doesn’t take much experience to know what I’m talking about. If you have seen a street preacher screaming damnation towards homosexuals, a youth group turning its back on a pregnant teenager, or a Bible teacher deriding the evils of dancing, cinema, and women in the workplace, then you have seen a “Christian” who is not living in revolt against the teachings of the world. Don’t get me wrong, there are evils in homosexuality, fornication, and drunkenness, but there is also evil in pride, gossip, and self-righteousness.

If we reflect on what I will personally call “the doctrine of small sins” we see that many religious people, as well as “moral” citizens, are capable of picking out the big no-no’s. However, there are many little eh-maybe’s that they let slide. “Eh, maybe I shouldn’t be mean to my wife tonight.” “Eh, maybe I shouldn’t yell at the guy that cut me off in traffic.” “Eh, maybe I shouldn’t look at the girl on campus that way.” But, there is no conviction, no desire, and usually no visible ramification that will make us to decide to follow those rules.

However, God doesn’t see it that way. Christ is quoted above saying “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” and “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Thus, it’s not just what you see, it’s not just that someone has sex with his secretary after work, but the fact that he thinks about it during his lunch break, that is in violation of God’s law. It is not just the man who murders a family, but also the man who desires to run a fellow motorist of the road that is worthy of separation from God. There does not have to be a physical action or a tangible sin to point at and say “See, that person is a sinner” for us to have sinned.

As well, it teaches that none are above sin and therefore there is no benefit in harping on certain sins of others while you have enough sin of your own to deal with. The place we see this the most is in the way religious people handle homosexuals. So often the cry of hellfire and gnashing of teeth is the only words that a gay person hears come from a “Christians” mouth and it never seems that the true mercies of God’s love are revealed to them. Yet when we look to the passage in John 8 where Jesus is confronted with a woman caught in the act of adultery, whom the scribes and Pharisees bring to him in order that they may see if he upholds the Mosaic law of stoning her to death. However, before Christ says anything to the woman, he admonishes the teachers who, in their zeal to see the woman punished, have failed to see that they too are as guilty as her before God. Then, once they all realize their own failings, Christ, the blameless one, grants mercy to the woman, as only he can, and commands her to leave and to not continue in her previous sins.

It is not the Christians job to convict of sins, that is the work of the Holy Spirit moving in the heart of the elect. No, instead it is for the believer speaking to an unbeliever to preach the gospel (Romans 1:15. 1 Corinthians 1:23, 1 Corinthians 9:16). And what is the gospel? It is the good news. Condemnation? That is the law. But the good news is that Christ fulfilled the law, that he laid down his life as a sacrifice, to pay the price for our sins, and then rose again from the grave so that we may have power to overcome sin, being justified in the eyes of God, that in the end we may be glorified and seated with him in heaven.

How do we live the revolutionary lifestyle in condemnation? Realize that we are all sinners, that God hates all sin and that all sin leads to eternal separation from God. And then preach the good news to all people, that through Christ some may be saved from hell (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

What We Believe- Article XV, The Christian and the Social Order

May 9, 2009

After weeks of anticipation (at least on my side) we are finally getting to the article in the practical theology portion of the Baptist Faith & Message that really goes for the jugular– the Christian and the Social Order.  Because of its length I will break it down it the three smaller pieces: the general command, the specific command, and the means of influence.

First the general command:

XV. The Christian and the Social Order

All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ.

The first portion begins with the general command for every Christian to be motivated by and for the supremacy of Christ.  This is a perfect sentiment, drawing straight out of the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ words to be salt and light (Matthew 5.13-16).  Even better is the statement that no “truly and permanently helpful” change can occur outside of “the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus.”  I love and totally embrace this statement.  I pray that all others do as well, but in observing how so many Christians attempt to “influence” the world through “Christian determinism” outside of grace I’m afraid that isn’t so.  We will return to the means of influence later, but it is important above all else to start with the fundamental understanding that outside of a saving relationship with Christ, all earthly change and control is nothing more than pagan moralism.

From the general command we move into specifics:

In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love.

This is a very interesting section.  When comparing it to the wording of this same article in the 1963 version of the BF&M we see a lot more in the way of specifics have been added.  In 1963 the only specific commands in the “Christians should oppose . . . ” sentence were “every form of greed, selfishness, and vice.”  Now, under the 2000 writing we see this expand to also include “racism” and “all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.”  This is not an extrabiblical extension (I believe it is perfectly inline with what Scripture reveals), nor is this a sign that society is more depraved now than in 1963 (it’s not and I have argued extensively on this site to that effect), it is simply telling of the ways in which the culture has become more open with and the Christian church has become more accepting of various forms of sin which in 1963 were almost unmentionable and clearly not what God sought in his children.  Now 40 years later we just assume God has changed or theologians were ignorant or some combination of the two and so we try and rationalize our sins.  Despite the fact that fundamentalists are prone to abuses in seeking to fulfill these oppositions, I am thankful that our denomination has enough integrity to say “This is what we believe, even if it’s not cool, and we’re not afraid to put it in writing.”

Finally, we see how they prescribe for us to influence the culture towards these standards:

In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.

Exodus 20:3-17; Leviticus 6:2-5; Deuteronomy 10:12; 27:17; Psalm 101:5; Micah 6:8; Zechariah 8:16; Matthew 5:13-16,43-48; 22:36-40; 25:35; Mark 1:29-34; 2:3ff.; 10:21; Luke 4:18-21; 10:27-37; 20:25; John 15:12; 17:15; Romans 12-14; 1 Corinthians 5:9-10; 6:1-7; 7:20-24; 10:23-11:1; Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:12-17; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; Philemon; James 1:27; 2:8.

This command harkens back to the cooperation article prior to it, but also goes further.  We should be willing to work both through interdenominational means and secular means with any person or group who is of “good will.”  Of course, like many things in the BF&M, this phrase is up for interpretation, but at least it leaves the door open for cooperation with those outside of the body of Christ.  There is a growing movement which says that Christians should not do this, that they should not work with those outside the church to reach God’s ends.  

Actually, there are several strains saying this, from radically different perspectives.  There are those who are saying to not work with the education system because it is secular and will contaminate our kids (sorry, that didn’t sound unbiased, did it?).  There are also those who say we should not work with the government because the only proper government is the one where God (or Pat Robertson) is ruler.  And finally there are those who say we shouldn’t work with those outside the faith to promote biblical ends because, well, who’s to say that we’re right, and if we try and influence people towards our beliefs we are being intolerant (sounds like a president I know of).  All of these seek to isolate the church and its beliefs from the realm of public ideas for one reason or another, but none that are particularly biblical.  Instead, we should really try embracing the last part of this sentence which instructs us to influence the culture while “always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising [our] loyalty to Christ and His truth.”  We say it and affirm it, but so few actually practice it.  It’s not a problem with our belief; it’s a problem with our follow through that makes us into hypocrites and legalists and bullies.

Overall, this is a fairly decent article and if we could apply it properly without being too weak or too strong in the execution we would probably be in a pretty good place.  But alas, sin!

Of First Importance- Returning Our Attention to the Fundamental Issue

April 2, 2009

A few days ago I was sitting in a Bible study when one of the other guys in it began talking about a video meant to instruct Christians about the truth on creation vs. evolution.  He talked for several minutes about this and how important it is and beneficial it would be for our church to go through it on Sunday nights.  However, as he was talking, I began to think about how poorly some of the people in our church know the Scriptures, especially in light of recent experiences with evangelism and Christian mythology, and yet even though they can’t distinguish between the truth of the Bible over, say, the heresy of The Shack, a presentation attacking evolution would likely draw a much larger crowd than one dealing with the nature of the atonement or man’s utter depravity.  With our priorities so jacked up, focusing on complex non-essentials over the basic truths of Scripture, its no wonder so many “Christians” don’t seem to have the first idea about what Christianity teaches.

Looking at 1 Corinthians 15.1-11 it appears Paul had something to say on this as well:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you- unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Did you see that in verse 3?  ”For I delivered to you as of first importance . . . ”  That means that whatever he says next is what he viewed as of first, and hence most importance for the people of Corinth to hear.  So what was it?  Was it the argument for creation?  Was it the horrors of same-sex marriage?  Was it the revelation of the end times?  No.  It was this: “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  Of all the things Paul could have told them, this was the most important.  And not only that, but having delivered it first, he does not just rest on the hope that they have trusted in what he’s said, but he goes back and reminds them of it once again (actually more than once, but here once, comprehensively, for good measure) so that in case they have forgotten why it is that they call themselves Christians they will be reminded and gather back around that.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  There is certainly a place for a right understanding of God’s construction of the world, or why marriage should only be recognized as between one man and one woman, but these things have become more than just tertiary doctrine that people are informed about.  In today’s modern evangelical culture, these topics are rallying points for all kinds of people who want to consider themselves “Christian” or maybe even just “religious.”  It is a way that Satan has used good things to blind our eyes from better things.  We have become so focused on fighting culture wars and science wars, and yet we neglect to fight the war for people’s hearts by presenting them with the gospel and honestly making sure it has landed with them.

Jesus warned us, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16.26).  Typically we want to apply this to money and self-reliance, but it just as easily applies to the realm of useless tertiary biblical knowledge.  It is of no matter if we can out match a scientist who tries to argue that creation is not real and God does not exist if we cannot at the same time clearly articulate to him the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ– so, of first importance, we should make sure we can!

I’ll See Your Hawaiian Shirt and Raise You a Gay Bishop- The Natural Outcome of Inconsistent “Christianity”

January 20, 2009

So, does anybody remember the firestorm surrounding soon-to-be President Obama’s selection of Rick Warren to give the Convocation at today’s Inauguration? Apparently Obama does. And for that reason we got what we saw Sunday afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial: the newly-wed, openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, issuing a prayer for our nation.

Now of course, Bishop Robinson has many qualifications for delivering such a high profile prayer. I mean, he is a pioneer just like Obama, and as The Times of London tells us, President Obama trusted in Bishop Robinson several times to see what it was like being the first of his kind. The only problem is, in as much as Obama is to be lauded for becoming the first African-American President of the United States, there is nothing laudable about the first June bride with a beard and mitre in the Anglican communion. In fact, one can hardly argue that were it not for Bishop Robinson’s sexual life he would just be another two-bit Episcopal priest with a 300 person parish somewhere in the forests of New England.

But he’s not and that’s why he was chosen to give this prayer. Now, of course, for a man who sees no contradiction in being a Minister of the Word and a practicing, unrepentant homosexual you can expect that he has some fruit loop theology as well, and by golly, he did not disappoint.

Bishop Robinson opened his prayer by appealing to the “God of our many understandings,” who I don’t think is the same recipient as “Our Father Who Art in Heaven,” though I could be wrong. He then went on to pray the classic prayer of tolerance for LGBTQ lifestyles found in the New Testament:

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

This was followed shortly after by a nice affirmation of the little known saying of Christ that everyone’s choice of god (little g folks) gets a vote in the end:

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God [sic] judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.

Well, as least he did close it with ‘Amen.’ You can see the full text of this prayer here or watch its delivery here.

With that, I have nothing much more to say than this is a sad demonstration of the religious confusion that occurs when you try and mix a postmodern, relativistic mindset with a loose, inconsistent claim of “Christianity.” This mash-up of comedy and tragedy should open our eyes to just how dangerous it is trying to ride the convictional fence between being a Christian and being a tolerant, liberal minded member of secular culture. There are many reasons why we must pray for President Obama, and I think this type of gospel schizophrenia is one of them. As John Piper has stated recently, making decisions to acknowledge and support such illegitimate happenings as a married gay Episcopal bishop puts Obama in a place where he is making Christ “a minister of condemnation.” And in case you’re wondering, that’s not a compliment.

But This Time It’s Different!- The Arrogant Plea of Man’s Depravity

January 9, 2009

One topic, or maybe subtopic, of a lot of my reading and interests in theology and culture lie in the understanding of man’s depravity both today and throughout history. As I shared earlier this week, traveling this road has even staggered me a bit, causing me to be hyper-aware of my own personal wickedness as I view mankind’s utter distance from the righteousness of God. With that in mind, I came across a quote in Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book Revival which really summed up to me one of the pressing mindsets of our day:

The Church does everything except that which the Lord himself commanded the early church to do. ‘Ah,’ but the Church says, ‘you know, the conditions are different now. This is the twentieth century.’ I would insult you by giving you an answer to that. the twentieth century has nothing to do with the situation at all. Man in sin does not change. But, my friends, we are talking about the power of God. And when we are talking about the power of God, to talk about superficial changes in men is not only an irrelevance, it is non-sensical. The world, I say, has always been the same. [Revival, p.202]

Substituting in the twenty-first century for the twentieth, I believe this statement is still true about the Church today, and this I feel is in basically two distinct and polar opposite ways.

The first way this is true, and what I think will be most obvious to people, is in the liberalizing of orthodoxy being attempted by those in the emergent and mainline protestant wings of the faith. Just go back a month ago to the cover of Newsweek, “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage.” Some journalist set out to show, from the Bible, that gay marriage is not only not sinful, but in fact it was apparently widely practiced. Of course, none of those Bible stories ever appeared in your Sunday School class, but I think mainly that is because you were using a different Bible. No, it’s not biblical authority which is placing this article on the front page of news magazines, it is a desire among the left leaning theologians to incorporate this doctrine because not to is offensive to their modern sensibilities.

Or what about Scot McKnight’s Blue Parakeet where he offers up the “fact” that with the Bible, “He who writes the story controls the glory”? This is his cute motto for saying that Christianity appears sexist only because the Bible was written by men living in a sexist society, and therefore, armed with our clear, unbiased 21st century opinions, we are in a place where the various spots that appear sexist to us can be removed while still (somehow) maintaining the claim that the Bible is inerrant. Of course, if McKnight were to man up about what he really means, it would be something like “Women can vote now and have the right to choose, who are we to say that they can’t be preachers as well?” This is the heart of what Lloyd-Jones is talking about above: we think that we are smarter, more informed, more tolerant than the previous centuries and therefore we can shed the “intolerance” that they were too uncivilized to get rid of before.

The second way in which this is true about the Church today is particularly in what can be said from the statement that, “Man in sin does not change.” For whatever reason, the fundamentalist side of the Church is convinced that these days are the most wicked and morally repugnant ones that the world has ever seen. Apparently sin had some bad PR back in the day, since no one seems to remember it. Look at the 1950′s, the benchmark in most fundies eyes as to what a Christian society looks like. Have any of you read Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs? What about On the Road by Jack Kerouac or Howl by Allen Ginsberg? All three works were written in the 1950′s (’58, ’51, and ’55, respectively) and all three are semi-autobiographical accounts of the lifestyles of the authors. Moreover, all three detail drug use, sexual promiscuity and immorality including homosexuality (both Burroughs and Ginsberg were gay), and language obscene enough to merit one high-profile court case. This is not the 1950′s pictured in your traditional evangelical church, but it is reality.

Depravity in all its forms is no more the fruit of the 1980′s, ’90′s, and 2000′s than it was at any other time since the fall from Eden. Recall, David and Bathsheeba: adultery and murder. Joseph’s 10 brothers: envy and deceit. Judas Iscariot: betrayal, greed, and suicide. Maybe the 1950′s were the high watermark above all this evil, but that’s not saying too much and is certainly not something worth desiring to return to again. Our goal is the end and our final sanctification with Christ: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13.14). No, it’s not good right now, but it never has been before either. That is why we must “run with endurance the race that is set before us,” because “sin . . . clings so closely” (Hebrews 12.1). Christ is coming again, that should be our focus, not some mythical society from 60 years ago.

It is imperative that we get the picture. Nothing really changes. Ecclesiastes 1.9, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” That’s what this means. Fundamentalism and liberalism are not defensible simply because “the times have changed.” Just do what Christ commanded of us: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7.7); “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16.24). If the Church wants to see revival, if we want to see a change spiritual, morally, and lastingly in the world then we should be spending more time in prayer, more time in seeking God’s Will being done on earth as in heaven, and less time trying to rationalize the solutions we think should work.

Dang Your Grace, God!- Learning about Our Failings in Forgiveness Through the Testimony of Jonah

January 4, 2009

I don’t know about you, but in my readings through the Bible one book that has always struck me as just wholly unusual is the book of the prophet Jonah. It seems that there is not a child in America who has not heard the story of Jonah being swallowed up and living in the body of a whale, but honestly, if that were it this book would probably only be half as weird. Thankfully that is not it and the lessons we learn from Jonah, strange as they are, strike deeply into the heart of the human depravity we all struggle with.

One particular portion of Jonah that I find piercing is in the final chapter, after Jonah has already been taught a lesson about fleeing from God and has seen the mighty city of Nineveh come to faith in obedience to God, Jonah is sitting out in the woods somewhere sulking about the great work God has done and this is what’s recorded:

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” [Jonah 4.1-3]

I mean, wow! First of all, this is just plain ballsy. Coming on the heels of three days of being fish food, to turn around and say such a thing to God shows that someone might not have been in the belly of a whale quite long enough. Second, I myself cannot even imagine the fear I would have in saying this. I’m not among the people who worries about being struck down by lighting, but at the same time I do not make a habit of challenging God by making myself a lightning rod.

Now, that said, the thing that is really striking about all of this is just what Jonah is saying. And I don’t mean the part about God being long-suffering and gracious, but the part where we see Jonah’s, and in turn possibly our own heart. As I heard Dr. Paul Tripp from Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia explain, Jonah is basically saying, “God, I didn’t want you to forgive those people, I wanted you to judge them.” That seems selfish, yet think to yourself, Is there anyone who I would rather God judge than forgive? Or, maybe more accurately, Is there anybody I don’t act as if I want God to forgive? I bet if you try hard enough you can think of an example. A boss who took advantage of you; a kid that picked on you growing up; a parent.

I know in my case it was an ex-girlfriend who caused me lots of stress. For the longest time I simply harbored ill-will towards her and made excuses for why I had to be mean to her. Then one day I realized that, though she had hurt me and was not someone I wanted to be around, the fact that she was not a believer in Jesus Christ was something that I should be broken over and should make me pray that God would transform her heart. It was hard, but I had to change my attitude towards her, and though I do not know what has happened to her since, I believe that that single Spirit-led realization made a dramatic impact on my life.

I think for a lot of “evangelicals” this is our attitude towards the gay community. We see them as sinners deserving of wrath. Some of us even go so far as to pronounce HIV/AIDS as a judgment from God upon them. Our hearts, for whatever reason, have been so hardened against homosexuals that we are desirous of their judgment in place of their forgiveness. We must ask ourselves, Is this right? Not homosexuality, clearly that is sinful (yeah, go ahead and dispute it, it’s still true). But is our attitude, our coldness, towards people living a lifestyle of homosexual sin the right one? Are we seeking their regeneration and renewal or do we just want judgment to reign from heaven onto their heads? If we are honest I think many of us will find ourselves not to far from Jonah in this respect.

Is there someone you need to change your attitude about? Jonah was angry at the forgiveness granted the Ninevites and prayed for death to ease his anguish. Are you at that point? Is that the state of your relationship with some individual or group of people? Pray it not be so. Learn the lesson of Scripture here and seek the change in your heart necessary to desire the change in another’s.

A Time for Unity and Concern- Gauging the Fallout of the Rick Warren Controversy

December 30, 2008

Let me begin by being honest and saying I am no fan of Rick Warren. However, though my personal opinion is against the methodologies he has chosen as a preacher, I believe he will be in heaven with me nonetheless. Therefore, when I see him being treated as he is in the media right now I stop and take a look to see just what it is that’s going on.

For those of you who may not yet have heard, Pastor Warren has been selected by President-elect Barack Obama to deliver the invocation at his January inauguration. This has caused a major backlash in liberal democratic circles with the reason given being Warren’s unabashed stance against gay marriage, and in particular his endorsement of the successful California marriage amendment, Proposition 8. In the week-and-a-half since the announcement, the Warren debate has carried on all over the news world, including in a blog posting by Dr. Al Mohler which I found quite interesting.

All this said, I would probably not have posted on the issue had it not been for one set of commentaries that I came across. The articles I speak of are the two opinion pieces written on the issue by infamous (and supremely arrogant) anti-theist Christopher Hitchens (articles one and two). In these articles, especially the first, there are several things which stick out to me as being disconcerting not just for fans of Rick Warren, but for most consistent, knowledgeable American evangelicals. Here is a quote from the beginning of the first article:

[I]f someone publicly charges that “Mormonism is a cult,” it is impossible to say that the claim by itself is mistaken or untrue. However, if the speaker says that heaven is a real place but that you will not get there if you are Jewish, or that Mormonism is a cult and a false religion but that other churches and faiths are the genuine article, then you know that the bigot has spoken.

Hitchens continues on to call out Rick Warren for his own “bigoted” views in this respect, as well as to label former SBC president and influential preacher W.A. Criswell as a “dismal nutbag” (He bases this in part off of Criswell’s belief in dispensational premillennialism, which again, though I don’t agree with the theological view, I do not believe it condemnable).

This all is disconcerting for your everyday evangelical because the stances which Hitchens is decrying are not “crackpot” and unusual like he makes them seem, but instead are actually at the core of mainstream orthodoxy. The sinfulness of homosexual behaviors, the exclusivity of the gospel, and some sort of Christian eschatology are not radical views, at least not from a biblical standpoint, yet being firm and convicted in them has led to a typically well-liked evangelical being run through the crapper of media scrutiny. If that is what’s happening to Rick Warren, just imagine what may happen to a little old Bible-believing baptist minister who isn’t making millions of dollars a year, living in California and rolling with Presidential candidates. If Warren could so quickly fall out of favor, how much more danger are we in as common biblical Christians?

I dislike making dire pronouncements, and praying for the rapture isn’t my idea of our Christian mission, but I do not believe that we can ignore the animosity and distrust that is rapidly arising from the popular culture against orthodox Christianity. For many years, possibly half a century or so, tolerance has been cruising it’s way to the top of American social thought. But in the last few years we have seen a steady increase from disdain of Bible-based Christianity in America to outright anger towards it. Now with the election of a radically liberal president and the controlling powers of liberal politicians in Washington and in the media, the fields are ripe for persecution. Someone of Rick Warren’s stature, though it looks bad publicly, will most likely not feel a great effect from this recent uproar. However it is you and I, the common everyday, hard-working American evangelical, who are about to put all those Don’t Waste Your Life books to the test.

Sure, But God is Love!- A Quote from D. A. Carson on God’s Passions

December 23, 2008

For Christmas this year my wife bought for me D.A Carson’s The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.  I joke that she did this because she thinks that I am too harsh and cold with people and so a book on love might lighten me up, but in all honesty this is an excellent (quick) read.  In punch per pages this is probably the most theologically dense book I have read all year (maybe save Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers by John Owen).  If you have $15 and 2 hours it is a wonderful investment.

As is my habit, I highlighted some of the thoughts and comments that I found most provoking in this book.  One in particular that caught my mind was the following:

Our passions change our direction and priorities, domesticating our will, controlling our misery and our happiness, surprising and destroying or establishing our commitments.  But God’s “passions,” like everything else in God, are displayed in conjunction with the fullness of all his other perfections.  [The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, pp.60-61]

Now, I don’t know if this is what you get on the first reading, or if it is what Carson intended when he wrote it, but the first thought that enetered my head upon finishing that passage was that this flies in the face of the culturally relative theology of many moderns and postmoderns.  It seems that every break with tradition these days, if not argued from a “Well, the Bible’s just wrong” angle, is argued from a “Society has changed so ipso facto God’s commands have changed.” This is common particularly among those who claim to “uphold” biblical authority.

However, if you take what Carson says at face value, or if you read the book and follow his argument to his above conclusion, it is abundantly clear that God is not swayed by our changing cultural perceptions.  If what God has commanded, what he loves and what he abhors, “are displayed in conjunction with the fullness of all his other perfections,” then we must wonder how God’s perfection in one age could be his error in another?  If women having authority over men or homosexual sexual activity or getting drunk or divorce were an abhorrance to God in the Bible, and at no time did he speak to abridge this, then how can we justify a change in God? What most people will say is “But God is love!,” but how can we say that in light of what’s been said?

God is not swayed by the passions of the time or the ways of the world, though in our fallenness this is where we walk (Ephesians 2.1-3).  It is a further indictment of our condition, of our making God in the form of man, that we see no incongruency here.  Never was it claimed that following the God of the Bible would be easy (the opposite is claimed actually, John 15.19) but it is our charge to do so in obedience and thanksgiving for the price paid for us (Hebrews 13.13). We are afraid of this, and so instead we try and change the rules, though we should know better (Deuteronomy 4.2, “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you“).

God is love (1 John 4.8), but that doesn’t mean we define ‘love’ and then put God in that little box of our own machinations.  If God is controlled by love, and not love by God, then what type of god is he after all?