Revolutionary Christianity- Living the Revolutionary Lifestyle in Purpose

May 20, 2009

“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ “ – Matthew 6:9-10

“And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’… Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ “ – Matthew 26:39,42

” ‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’ “
– Matthew 12:50

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” – 1 Peter 4:1-2

As full-fledged Christian Revolutionaries, one of the main aspects of our lives that revolt against the teachings of the world is in why we do what we do. What is our will? What are the motivations behind living this revolutionary lifestyle the way that we do? Why should we choose to abstain from certain behaviors (such as premarital sex) and engage in others (like evangelism)? In short, it is because we should long to do the will of God!

The majority of other major worldviews, Humanism, Existentialism, Postmodernism, Universalism, and such, all view the purpose of man as to do his own will and seek his own good so that in the end he is either counted as a good person and/or worthy of attaining some sort of heaven. They view man as having a fundamental ability to do “good” and as being a naturally “good” creature.

However, as a Christian we see over and over that we are by nature not good (Ephesians 2:3, Romans 3) and that because of our nature we are all deserving of death and Hell (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1). Yet it is by the mercy of God that we recieve grace and forgiveness (1 Peter 1:3-5), and we can “take off the old self” and put on the new which was “created after the likeness of God” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Thus, we are called to our revolutionary view of our will. As quoted above in 1 Peter, we are to live “no longer for human passions but for the will of God”, and as illustrated by Jesus, both in the Lord’s Prayer and His own prayers in Gethsemane, we are to pray for and desire that the will of God be done, regardless of the cost to ourselves. That is revolutionary, that is completely against the nature of this world and its’ man-made philosophies which desire to satisfy the flesh and fulfill the desires of a man’s heart. As is the main thesis of John Piper’s book Desiring God, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him, and so we should not only seek to do His will but also to be happy in doing so.

As a Christian Revolutionary it is always for the will of God that I should strive, and that I may be more able to do it as He is conforming me to the image of His Son. When the world desires goodness and satisfaction they always turn inwards, but as a new creation to whom God has given “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” to (2 Corinthians 4:6), we know that the only way to truly have our joy fulfilled is by abiding in Christ and seeking to do the will of the Father.

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.

A Time for Unity and Concern- Assessing the Real Need

January 2, 2009

It is not uncommon today to hear evangelicals talk about a need for revival in the church and the society. In fact, this was a common theme from the pulpit I sat under for several years in my old church. We want a fresh outpouring of God’s spirit to the hearts of believers and nonbelievers, in our communities, across our nation, so that people will be caught on fire for the message of the gospel, lives will be transformed in their manner of walk, and, what I think is the driving force of most people’s call for revival, our culture will look less like pagans and more like Paul. These are all good goals to be pursuing (though the last one may be a little questionable), but no matter what we try it doesn’t seem to be happening. Why is this?

Well, first and foremost, as a firm believer in the sovereignty of God, I know that it is God’s purpose, for whatever greater reason he intends, that revival has not hit our land recently. That said, I do believe a call for revival is biblical, and, if it accords with his will, is one that God will answer. We’ve seen it in the past, the Great Awakening of the 1700′s with Edwards and Whitefield, the Haystack Revival of 1806. It is something that happens, something that God does, and I’m sure is something he is pleased to do.

However, there is one major difference between what the culture in which we are calling for revival now and the periods in which revival occurred hundreds of years ago. Here’s what Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says it is:

I feel increasingly, that as we examine this truly, we shall see that the kind of problem facing us is altogether deeper and more desperate than that which has confronted the Christian Church for many a long century. For the problem for us is not apathy, it is not a mere lack of concern and lack of interest. It is something much more profound. It seems to me to be a complete unawareness, even a denial of the spiritual altogether. [Revival, p.13]

The good doctor tells us that the problem is not simply one of an apathetic society who has just wearied of seeking God and fulfilling their religious duties, as was the case with previous times of revival, but instead the sickness we are facing now is that people have grown unaware of God, unaccustomed to his presence and glory.

One way I commonly hear this talked about is a loss of our Christian background or memory. In generations past there was at least an echo of God in the consciences of the people in Western society. Even if they didn’t worship God their self or attend church services, there was still an understanding that God was there, if only absent to some individuals. Yet now we have a culture in which people have lost that understanding. God is, at best, some form of pagan arranger of the heavens or disassociated overseer, but more likely just a figment of one’s imagination that is not worthy to be believed in with our contemporary sensibilities. God is not missing in our lives, God is not even there. Though he has made himself visible to all men (Romans 1.18 ) we have long since suppressed him and moved on with ourselves, none the poorer.

As well, because God has become so impotent, those who do want to still hang on to this relic of our past all too often want to revamp him so he is a more attractive deity to believe in. Just today I was reading a blog post in which a “recovering evangelical” stated that they now refer to God as “Father Mother God” because it helped to broaden them from their sexist views of Christianity. So, what they assessed (or assumed) was a problem, the non-egalitarian nature of Christianity, they fixed by inventing a way of thinking of God which is illumined by Americanized feminist earth worship. They took a good point, God is not gendered, and used that to wipe away what the Bible has to say about the proper relationship between males and females in the church and in marriage. But since this is a “God” of their own creation and there is no true God present collectively in the memories of their culture, no one is offended by this perversion of the biblical picture.

Our culture needs to know God again. We have forgotten him and so either have happily moved on alone or have reformed him in the image of our own likings, neither of which is acceptable. If we truly desire for revival in our land then we must address this issue. We must stand firm in who God is, what he has said to us in Scripture, and how he calls us to live. The Social Gospel, Free Grace theology, and the other creations of our modern religious confusion must be torn down so that the eyes they blind may see clearly God’s glorious grace.

But more than anything, we must reign in this ourselves. We must be devoted to knowing God as he has revealed himself to us and must be unswerving in our commitment to driving out the unbelief by prayer and fasting (Mark 9.29).

To God be the glory!

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?

Unsure Theologians- The Destruction of Theology in the Emergent Morass

December 13, 2008

As we have already looked at things, we’ve seen the problem of churches not wanting theology taught and the possible results of going this course. But now I would like to go back and take a look at what happens when our church wants theology, it just so happens to be they want a “new kind of” theology.

If you have been reading my blog, or just about any other Christian blog for any time, you will already be familiar with the issue of the post-modern/post-conservative/post-evangelical emerging/emergent church hoopla. This, in the most general of senses, is a church movement which is designed to make the church “relevant” to postmodern culture. The problem with this is just how “relevant” they decide to become. As you may notice in my above tab “Emerging vs. Emergent” I have offered my take on this issue by posing a dichotomy of the two main styles of postmodern relevancy. In this post I will be dealing with what I term as Emergent Christianity, the brand of Christianity that goes beyond engaging and actually embraces postmodern thinking.

Among the major issues for theology when it comes into contact with Emergent thinking, there is one which I think is very important to the thought we’ve been developing here. There is, to some extent, a general desire for theology in Emergent churches, which, on the outside, seems to be a point in their favor over many of our fledgling contemporary modern congregations. However, once one takes a look at the actually “theology” that’s being done, things aren’t quite as peachy as they first appear.

The Reformation in Europe of the 16th and 17th centuries rallied around one cry: sola scriptura! And for the past 400-500 years, this mantra of Scripture as the sufficient and final authority for Christian doctrine has carried the day (at least in Protestant and Baptist churches). If you are not familiar with this, you are probably at least familiar with the refrain of “Cause the Bible tells me so,” which is essentially the same idea. Either way, this sort of thinking, that there is a system of basic beliefs by which all other beliefs in an area are founded upon (in this case, the teachings of Scripture), is called Foundationalism in the field of epistemology. It basically means, in terms of Christian theology, that any belief is a justified (correct) belief if and only if it is based upon the teachings of Scripture or a chain of justified beliefs which eventually rest upon a teaching of Scripture.

Now, I apologize for going all academic here, but I think once you see the payoff you will understand. As a traditional, modern American Christian, we basically take for granted Foundationalism as our theory of justification in Christian theology. Every thing must flow from the pages of Scripture to be true. However, most Emergent theology denies this, and instead holds to a nonfoundational Christian theology. Instead of viewing Scripture as a foundation of basic beliefs out of which all theology grows, they view theology as “emerging” from an ongoing “conversation” between Scripture, tradition, and culture, in which no partner has any more privilege to the truth than any other.

If you can’t see it already, some of you may be asking, Why is this bad? Well, recall my comments about what Tony Jones said recently? He argues for church sanctioned monogamous homosexual relationships as being in no contradiction to biblical Christianity. This is a radical view to most of us. What contributes to this radical nature is that, while he eschews some of the traditional Scriptural arguments against such a thing, Jones readily admits that a large factor in his decision is the role of the cultural partner in the conversation. Turning away from Foundationalism to a conversation where three partners are equally footed and equally likely to produce the “truth” has led to such an incredible statement coming from the theology of someone who self identifies with the Emergent movement.

I would similarly point to Scot McKnight’s biblical interpretation method from The Blue Parakeet (though he makes claims to be Foundationalist I argue in my post that he pretty much contradicts this in his methodology) and Phyllis Tickle’s out-and-out denial in The Great Emergence that sola scriptura is a sufficient basis for Christian theology, as being further evidence of what happens when one starts trying to do Christian theology from a nonfoundational perspective.

In the end, I think we must conclude that, though it may go unnoticed to most onlookers, the Emergent eagerness for theology has to be taken with a grain of salt, because what lies beneath the surface is not always good. When a “theologian” decides to take on a nonfoundational perspective it should give us immediate concern. If the Bible is not our foundation and does not have any greater claim to truth than our experience and human tradition, then the best we can expect is an unsure theologian who is sufficiently confused by the fallenness of the human input they are mixing in with their theology, and the worst is a “new kind of Christian” which is no kind of Christian at all because their god is formed imago homo hominis (“in the image of man”) instead of the other way around; neither of these extremes, or the area between them, is desirable and should not be accepted as a substitute for good theology, even if the hunger there is lacking.

Theologian by Necessity or Choice?- A Look at the Attitude Towards Theology in our Churches

December 10, 2008

As someone who teaches frequently across several ages in the church, probably the largest complaint I have, or at least the complaint that I most frequently bother my poor wife with, is the fact that I often times feel I cannot go too deep with the material without losing a majority of the audience I am speaking with. This is not an indictment on their intelligence or desire to glorify God, but is just a general frustration at the fact that when several people are gathered in a room on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening for “Bible Study,” the overriding expectation to which they have been conditioned by years of church culture is one of discussion and venting about what is on their mind and not necessarily of mining out with precision and care the finer, deeper points of Scripture. Not only am I bothered by this, but I think it is symptomatic of much that is wrong in contemporary modern/post-modern American Christianity.

Ronald N. Gleason quoting David Wells in an essay entitled “Church and Community or Community and Church?” says that

Wells makes this provocative point: ‘Theology does not fare well in the culture because it is not believed; it does not fare well in the church because it is not wanted.’ And herein lies the crux of the matter and our modern dilemma. This leads Wells to conclude, ‘A church that neither is interested in theology nor has the capacity to think theologically is a church that will rapidly be submerged beneath the waves of modernity.

For clarity, the word ‘theology’ as used here and throughout refers to the studying of God, his character, his will, and his acts. So, the assessment being made by the above quote is that the modern church does not want to be involved in the study of God, his character, his will, or his acts; what they would rather instead is practical, often secular-based psychological counsel and therapy on how to deal with their own individual failings. This charge is supported by the myriads of self-help, personal enrichment “ministries” that many modern, attractional churches offer, which typically bear no resemblance to or provide no foundation from anything found within the pages of Scripture.

To some extent I see those I teach, and most other groups inside the church, as being guilty of this; not out of willful detestation, but just because it is what’s expected. Theology, as they’ve been taught, is boring, stuffy, and, this is the kicker, it often times leads to arguments. Therefore, it is much better to just avoid it than to run the risk of splitting the room over whether Romans 9 is corporate election to physical blessings or individual election to eternal life (it’s the latter, by the way). Thankfully I have seen many young adults at in my congregation realizing that church without theology is not an adequate situation, and thus beginning to make moves towards more theological moments in the Sunday School classroom. Unfortunately, however, this seems to be the exception and not the norm.

What is needed is a strong call to the idea of being a theologian out of necessity. One thing I stress over and over with those that I teach is that one goal for Christians should be to live up to the criteria that Paul lays out for leadership within the church, even if we don’t ourselves wish to attain these leadership positions. And, in striving to meet these criteria we find that one such requirement is what is taught in Titus 1.9: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Therefore, a natural piece of the Christian life is being taught in and holding firm to God’s Word in order to use it for instruction and admonition; or, in other words, being a junior theologian.

We get a similar charge from Jude, who says, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (v.3).” How are we “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered” to us, if we never let it be delivered or never receive it when it is being brought? Clearly our actions of not wanting theology are not in line with the expectations of the biblical authors.

Lastly, Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4.1-4 should sound off as an alarm for our anti-theology congregations. In this passage Paul declares to Timothy that:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Is this us? Are we those who “will not endure sound teaching.” As much as I would hope otherwise, I am afraid that this is an indictment of the modern/postmodern church. Thus, we need to remove the animosity in our pews towards learning theology and move ourselves back into line with the commands of Scripture. Being a theologian is not a choice, it is a necessity, and it is a task we should all be eager for as there is no greater enterprise than to know God better.

The Finite Representing the Infinite- A Quote on the Adequacy of Biblical Revelation

December 4, 2008

As you can see by my box to the side, I am currently reading a book entitled Reforming or Conforming?: Post-Conservative Evagelicals and the Emerging Church. It is an interesting new release addressing the ideology of the current pomo-emergent mish-mash of new liberalism being observed under the guise of the Emerging/Emergent Church. The format is a collection of essays written by 13 contemporary Reformed scholars on various topics of interest such as the humanity of Scripture, living in community, and the doctrine of hell.

In reading through an essay entitled ‘Sola Scriptura’ as an Evangelical Theological Method? by John Bolt, I ran across as interesting exchange that I thought I would share with you.

Dr. Bolt, professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, cites a quote from emergent leader Scot McKnight in an article in Christianity Today where he says:

The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping, as all the great theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin have insisted, and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositions is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.

Dr. Bolt’s response to this statement (which, let’s be honest, is standard emergent rhetoric for denying certain clear, universal truths expressed in Scripture) is, in my opinion, one of the best replies to this sort of reasoning I have seen yet. He says:

[S]peaking of God with clear, thoughtfully-reasoned claims that are indeed intended to be universally true is not “linguistic idolatry” when it is rooted in biblical revelation itself. In fact, this self-celebrated epistemological humility — not making universal claims about God — when we do have revelation, should be seen for what it is: disobedience and a failure to give an account of the hope (and truth) that is in us (1 Peter 3.15). If one were to take seriously the objection that the finite cannot represent the infinite, then the incarnation is impossible. Furthermore, nothing that we humans do could then possibly fit the requirement that we image God. There goes the Word become flesh; there goes the imitatio Christi (p.90).

The major highlight in this for me is when he says that the emergent false-humility is actually “disobedience and a failure to give an account of the hope (and truth) that is in us.” That was a new thought which really struck me as timely, appropriate, and exceedingly true. If we believe Scripture is what it says it is (and what McKnight claims it is himself), divine revelation, then we must believe that what it says is adequate to convey what God intended for us to hear, and nothing less.

That said, 100 pages in I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in tackling the cogs and gears of the inner workings of the pomo-emergent brand of Christianity, particularly from a Reformed perspective.

Who Else Shall We Follow?- Hearing Peter’s Declaration in John 6.66-69 Today

December 3, 2008

Thinking back to the portrait we see of Peter in the Gospel accounts, I think many of us would be quick to say that he was the Disciple best known for sticking his foot in his mouth, either speaking too soon (John 13.36-38) or just speaking nonsense (Mark 9.2-6). However, there is at least one instance where we see Peter speaking with more clarity than just about anybody in his time or ours.

At the end of the theologically rich chapter of John 6, we find that many of the people who are following Christ have grown frustrated and begin grumbling and questioning him. After he answers them in regards to “who can listen to [the teaching of Christ in v.53]” we receive the following account:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.‘” (John 6.66-69)

Jesus had just spoken a hard word, many people left him, and yet, when questioned over whether the Disciples would leave as well, Peter affirms the truthfulness of Christ’s deity and his words speaking of eternal life. Christ is the truth, he has delivered the truth, and the truth can be found nowhere else but in him (John 14.6). Why would Peter ever go elsewhere when he has encountered the “Holy One of God” already here?

Why did the others leave? Because what Jesus spoke was “hard” (v.60). When they heard him, they took at face value what he said (“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you“) and failed to see it with spiritual eyes, as Jesus explained to them in vv.61-65.

Yet more than that, they were discouraged. As we see earlier in this chapter, Jesus has been at work performing miracles among the people (vv.10-11), and this has led to a great gathering about him and following after him (vv.22-24). But these people were only following after him for his physical works, and were blind to the true purpose of his coming. Thus, when they realized following Jesus was no free lunch (sorry about the pun) they turned and left.

This is where I think many of us are today. It is a common refrain among the younger generation in the church to say “I grew up in an evangelical church, but . . . ” and then give some excuse for a departure from orthodox behavior or belief. We all have a common background, a common starting place, just like the people following Jesus in John 6 (who we’re all Jews living in Palestine). Yet, at some point a hard saying has come up and some of us have decided to “no longer walk with him.”

Now, I know this sounds harsh, even judgmental, but this is what I truly see among many in this post-conservative, post-modern, emerging generation. Hard sayings have come, about personal liberties or homosexuality or gender relations or the exclusivity of the Gospel, and this has caused many to jump ship. So, then why did I make such a big deal about Peter’s words at the beginning? Well, what does he say? “To whom shall we go?” Peter rightly understood what was going on. He rightly saw that irregardless of what they were doing, himself and the Disciples, and more generally all of us, we would all be following someone.

So, who do those who takeoff follow? If we look at it today I believe what we will find is that, for the most part, the one that those who left are following after now is their self. Humanism, hedonism and relativism have elevated the self to position of ‘Rabbi.’ What the Bible says is only important and/or binding in as much as it conforms to how I view the world and reality and what is good for me. It is this teacher that many have decided to follow, have decided to leave off from “the Truth” and go after.

We must wake up to this declaration. We are all following someone. It may be a teacher, a charismatic leader, or, as I see the case today, it may just be ourselves. Raising ourselves up as the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong, what is acceptable to God and not. This is nothing but dangerous. So many want to say they are Christ-followers, thinking it takes away the ugliness of saying they are Christians. But the reality is, many of those who are departing from the Bible in all those new and innovative ways that 2000 years of biblical scholarship was incapable of unlocking have long ago quit following Christ because they found his sayings too hard, his truth too unsatisfactory for their enlightened self.

This is dangerous.

Wake up and listen to what Peter affirms.

Who else shall we follow?

Rebuilding the City- The Necessity of Biblical Preaching

September 12, 2008

(This is the third post in a series concerning what principles we can learn about rebuilding the church in America as seen through the books of Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).

And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. . . . They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” -Nehemiah 8.1-3, 8

It is my conviction that first and foremost, if the church is to be rebuilt among us, the primary concern for our people should be strong, expository, biblical preaching. And I mean that exactly as I said it, it should be the primary concern for our people. So many of us are want to put the onus for biblical teaching on the preacher and “his style,” but what is really needed is a culture which commands a faithful, thorough handling of the Word of God. As we see in Nehemiah 8, it was the people who “told Ezra . . . to bring the Book of the Law of Moses” to teach from. And moreover, it was the people who sat for 4 hours and listened as Ezra exposited from the text. The people desired strong preaching and they called forth a leader who would give it to them. We must share this desire if we are going to make a difference.

But, you may ask, Why is this type of preaching, namely exposition, so important? Well, as a first authority on this I want to refer you guys to Al Mohler’s new book He is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World. Most of my understanding of the importance of expository preaching has its roots in what Dr. Mohler has taught and so I will defer to him as a superior authority on the topic. However, I will give an argument for why I believe this way.

Expository preaching, as defined in Dr. Mohler’s text, is

” . . . that mode of Christian preaching that takes as its central purpose the presentation and application of the text of the Bible. All other issues and concerns are subordinated to the central task of presenting the biblical text.” (p.65)

In other words, expository preaching is preaching which starts with God’s Word and radiates out to everything else. By preaching in an expository manner the preacher is bound solely to what the Bible says. This is important, though a seemingly trivial requisite until one observes that most congregations in America treat the Bible as only one among a number of central texts, of which may include other religious tomes, man-made religious studies, or even popular fiction (such as the case with The Shack). The people need to be crying out to hear what God has to say about himself and not what things William P. Young has to say about God (or “Papa” as he calls her, eek!). If we aren’t getting God’s Word first from the pages of Scripture then chances are, given the proportion of wackos to devout teachers, we are getting it with a lot of man-made philosophy attached.

This also makes a difference because if one is bound to the text then they are bound to whatever situations it may bring up. And since I do not know of a book in the Bible which is made up of just four chapters on how to avoid road rage (for real, I sat through a sermon on this once) then we will be forced to face theological questions and commandments which may not necessarily appeal to our laissez-faire desires for spirituality. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of applications to be found in the Bible, but those should be a secondary concern of ours to the raw message of Scripture as we encounter it. This is the role of the radiating out. We start with the text and what they show us and then, once we have addressed what God is saying, we begin to search for applications of it to our lives. Unfortunately, there are too many people, including preachers, who have their own ideal of a God they would be willing to serve, and thus only thumb through the Bible looking for passages which they can bend to justify their desires. Correcting ourselves to a right position of Scripture in our views will make a visible change in how we worship.

A third wonderful consequence of expository preaching is that when you take what comes without running it through the filter of seeker-sensitivity you are put in a place where many false teachings of Scripture are confronted. This is what I believe the Spirit meant through Paul when he wrote Titus 1.9 speaking of pastors, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” As is even visible on the comment board here (see comments on “I Choose Hell- CS Lewis and God’s Role in Condemning”), people can construct almost any argument they want using out-of-context Scripture. But when keep within the lines of the larger, coherent message, these heresies and misconstruals are more readily shown in the light for what they really are.

If we want to see the city of God rebuilt and the church to regain its influence and reputation in the culture, we must begin at the level of desiring solid biblical teaching and preaching. As 2 Timothy 3.16 says, the whole Bible is “profitable” to us, and as such we should not neglect any of it.

The Emergent Invitation to War- What Post-Modernism Does to Christianity

August 7, 2008

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” -1 Peter 3.13-16

I first became a fan of Natan Sharansky after reading his widely acclaimed book The Case for Democracy in early 2005. The unashamed way in which he spoke right to the heart of the matter of fear and freedom in our societies greatly influenced my outlook on the practices of governments around the world. Thus, when he released his most recent book, Defending Identity, I knew that I would eventually want to read it, regardless of the subject matter. However, when I began reading the reviews I saw that this was a book I would be interested in even if Mr. Sharansky had not been the author.

Why is that? Because, in this book which focuses mostly on the need for strong identities to coincide with strong democracies, I saw a deeper message pertaining to the struggle between strong identities and strong Christianity going on within the Church in our present emerging culture. Go onto any emergent blog, read any emergent book (say the upcoming Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell for example), or engage any emergent thinkers in your congregation, and you will see this idea of a strong Christian identity being the cause of great travesties throughout the world and a drive to neutralize that identity and try to appeal on a broader range of issues which seem more agreeable to more people and thus promoting more “peace”. This all comes from the “perfectly compelling” syllogism of post-modernism, namely: identity causes conflict; conflict is evil; therefore, identity is evil. It is this false argument which I believe leads emergent Christianity down many a dangerous path in its theology and application, and it is that which Sharansky’s book, when read with a properly discerning eye, argues wholly against.

Below are a couple of quotes which I found particularly striking. In reading them, try and cast the ideas of war and totalitarian forces into the mold of religious conflict and Satan, and see for yourself if you can find the parallels which I was drawn to:

“Post-identity (post-modernism) weakens identity to decrease tensions between people, but doing so leads to vulnerability, threats, blackmail, and ultimately to an inability to defend against aggression. That is why post-identity is an invitation to war.” (Natan Sharansky, Discovering Identity, p.205

“People are willing to make sacrifices when the choice is clear, when they know what is right and what is wrong. yet, if nothing is right, if no value judgments can be made, then nothing is wrong. Post-identity has created a world in which there is no right. But if there is no right, why fight?” (ibid., pp.100-101)

“It should be obvious that wagging a struggle against totalitarian forces first requires moral clarity. Unless you recognize evil, you cannot begin to fight it. But this is where the champions of post-identity have done the greatest damage.” (ibid., p.221)