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Friday, March 30, 2007

ECM and Hell--Hard to Accept

[This is a post in a long series examing the emerging/emergent church movement in light of various Scriptures. The series starts here, if you'd like to get up to speed.]

ECM and Hell--Hard to Accept

Yesterday, I posted that heaven is not spoken of much, despite the fact that the language in Scripture would allow the teacher to exercise some ambiguity in his desire to be accurate. Though heaven cannot be fully grasped, the topic is largely ignored. I don't believe I've heard anyone in the emerging camp refute heaven, the topic is usually left to neglect. It's not denied, just disregarded.

Many consider hell the counterpart of heaven. While these are the two possible destinations, it's important to realize heaven and hell do not have a ying-yang dimension. Hell is not the direct opposite of heaven. However, hell is treated almost in direct inverse to heaven. Heaven's language can be shadowy, yet many in the emerging church choose to ignore it. Hell, on the other hand, can have rather direct language, yet many in the emerging church choose to deny it. Take a look at some of these passages:

Matthew 5:22--hell is fiery
Mathew 5:29-30--people can end up in hell
Matthew 10:28--soul and body can be cast into hell
Matthew 18:9--hell is fiery
Matthew 23:15--the Pharisees teaching led people to hell
Matthew 23:33--hell is judgment
Mark 9:43-48--hell's fire is unquenchable
Luke 12:5--the authority to cast into hell is Christ's
James 3:6--evil words will be judged in hell
2 Peter 2:4--angels are in hell, there are pits of darkness in hell.

This was hardly an exhaustive search. I simply went to biblestudytools.net, typed in hell and searched in NASB. These were the New Testament passages that came up. With a decent internet connection, this "study" took all of five minutes. This does not even include other teachings from Jesus (regarding the eternality of hell) or Old Testament teaching. However, expanding the search to include these areas would not cloud the topic, but would shed more light. Yet, many claim to have studied and don't know what to make of hell.

[Still others take the most cowardly approach. They postulate that hell "may" not exist. They present all angles, highly emphasizing the perspective that denies its existence, and thing shrink away when challenge. They will not state what they believe, only what the options are and that they think we should reexamine things. Clearly, they want to undermine the orthodox perspective, but they don't have to answer for what view they may espouse. No matter what perspective they end on, such double-mindedness is not pleasing to the Lord.]

Some claim they will not speak of hell for fear of the "fire and brimstone" preaching they've heard in the past. But wouldn't it be reclaiming a doctrine to preach on it with the compassion and grace they believe was missing before? Others claim that they can't preach on it because it may scare some people, and scare tactics are never good. While I do not believe the gospel message is simply avoiding hell, doesn't Jesus teaching show that He believed than an accurate view of hell could motivate? Are we more theologically sound teachers than Christ? Others will not preach hell because they cannot imagine a God who could create such a place. But the Scriptures say that He did, so what diminsion of God are they missing? Is there something they are ignoring that makes it hard to teach such things?

I believe there is. And I believe it's denial/neglect is the root of every post within this series. I also believe this denial/neglect is the root of most of the problems within our own fellowship, emerging or not.

And I'll share more, starting April 9.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

ECM and Heaven--Hard to Describe

[Here's the revised approach after taking a slightly different angle.]

ECM and Heaven--Hard to Describe

To this point, the posts have taken the following path...

Some will claim we should leave well enough alone, let each minister do his own thing and mind your business. However, an elder is called to refute unsound doctrine. But how can we define sound and unsound doctrine? Many will claim that the Bible may be inerrant, but that it is impossible to know what Scripture says. They would never be so arrogant to claim they can understand the text. But the Bible acknowledges some passages are tough, yet still expects us to understand them. But won't that sound mean and arrogant? Clearly, we can not teach with authority or the audience won't listen. We must learn to teach like Jesus, Who used parables and vague illustrations. But didn't Jesus say His mission was to prevent people from understanding Him? So clearly we can not teach as well as the "Good Teacher." We're going to fall short in that task so we should just relax some and accept our failure. But God is listening carefully and so should the church.

But if at first you don't succeed, focus on that which is vague. While the Scripture says some clear things about the Kingdom, it's more attractive to focus on the obscure elements. The only thing that is clear is that ambiguity is in. Even if the Scripture is clear, we handle it in generalities. That is, until you get to Revelation 4:1-7:
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things." Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. (emphasis added)
The force of John's passage can be lost on 21st century America. As a youth pastor for nearly a decade, I learned that saying, "I was like heading to school when like the bus was early and I had to like ride in the car with like my mom" actually means, "I missed the bus and my mom drove me to school."

But this is the inspired Word of God. Every word matters. Reread the text, this time knowing that like is "homoios," like is "hos," and appearance is "horasis." John inserts all of these words, not to fill space or to give him time to think. John inserts these words to share his inability. John is given such a vision of glory that all he can do is try to compare it to what he currently knows. The passage is full of ambiguity! For instance, we know that around the throne there is something like a sea of glass but not actually a sea of glass. Like crystal, but the "like" indicates it is not actually crystal. This passage is nearly impossible to get your hand around. For the ambiguous preacher this passage is homiletic heaven!

If you think about it, heaven should be difficult to describe. If it resembles this place, can it really be extraordinary? By nature, it is filled with things that cannot be compared to this globe. John tries to draw comparisons, but he keeps it clear that he's not speaking in absolutes. The sea is not glass or crystal. The creature is not quite a flying eagle.

For those with "emerging persuasions," there are good reasons for preaching heaven:

--It's much more pleasant than the hell-fire-brimstone preaching they claim to have been hurt by.

--It's a picture of paradise. An aim for their global purification processes.

--It's mysterious. There are passages, like above, where the language is ambiguous.

Yet, much of postmodern ministry does not want to address the topic of heaven. Heaven may be a reference point, but the attention is quickly diverted downward. Phrases like "heaven on earth" rule the method. We may believe in heaven (or may not). We may long for heaven (though I've heard some leaders confess they'd like to stay here). But we're not really going to talk about heaven or focus on it. What would be the reason to neglect such a rich doctrine? Would focussing on heaven really cause people to not be motivated while still on earth?

I don't think that is really the concern, but at this point I start to delve into so sensitive territory...

So, I'll return to this idea, but hit something else tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Short Break

While working on the next post in the series I was digging through a text. As I sunk my teeth into it, I realized it was not at all making the point I was trying to make. That caused me to pull back, reassess and jump right back in.

However, when I reexamined things, I realized the text was making a whole greater point than I was ever going to make. Therefore, it may take a day or two, but the rest of the series is going to go in a bit different route.

Until then, I leave you with a couple of great quotes from The Expository Genius of John Calvin (Ooohhh, it's good.)

From Calvin:
No man is fit to be a teacher in the church save only he who...submits himself...[to] be a fellow-disciple with other men.
Doctrine without zeal is like a sword in the hand of a madman, or...else it serves for vain and wicked boasting.
Of Calvin, Lawson says:
In short, he knew the Bible, having absorbed it in his quick memory and embraced it in his devoted heart.
Again, Calvin said:
I am not speaking here merely that others may hear me; but I too, for my part, must be a pupil of God, and the word which goes forth from my lips must profit myself; otherwise woe is me! The most accomplished in the Scripture are fools, unless they acknowledge that they have need of God for their schoolmaster all the days of their life.

ECM and Specifics--Thy Kingdom Come

[The following post is a continuation of some ECM observations. Check out the other posts in the series to get up to speed.]

ECM and Specifics--Thy Kingdom Come

If you've spent any time talking to someone from "emerging" circles, you've heard the word "kingdom." The phrase "kingdom of God" or "kingdom of heaven" (this post will not attempt to explore any difference in these phrases) are certainly Biblical terms. Using this term is certainly not a bad thing, for Jesus used it often. Many who speak of the "kingdom" merely claim to be adopting Jesus' language.

However, like a Sicilian squealing "inconceivable," I'm just not sure they know what the term means. The more they use the word, the less it denotes. One has to wonder if this is intentional, for in my experience, those who use it most seem less capable of giving a definition. Is the word attractive because Jesus used it, or because it can be a bit hazy?

[Side note: The above paragraph used a cultural reference (gasp), suggesting maybe some have painted me with too large a brush. I do not hate culture, nor can culture even be avoided. Everyone lives within a culture, just everyone isn't obsessed with American "pop culture." I would also point out that it was merely an illustration and that now we will be turning to the New Testament, not the works of Rob Reiner.]

Perhaps Acts 1:1-8 can provide some definition. Consider the following:
    1. "The first account I composed..."
Luke makes reference to the Book of Luke, Chapter 1. Acts, therefore, is a continuation of the first book he wrote to Theophilus. In the introduction of Luke, Luke explained his intention. Luke desires to compile a history for Theophilus (v 1). Luke worked hard to gather all the eyewitness information and record it in a sensible order so Theophilus could follow along (v 2-3). He did this so that Theophilis could know the exact truth of what he had been taught (v 4). Truth was available, and Luke's written account should make that clear to Theophilus.
    2. "until the day He was taken up to heaven..."
Luke makes it known he is picking up right where he left off. He ended the book of Luke with the ascension and begins the book of Acts just before the ascension. We're not missing any major portion of the story.
    3. "by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles..."
Christ spent His last moments with them instructing. These instructions were not advice or helpful aids, Jesus was giving them commands (orders [entellomai] means a strong command each of the four times Luke uses it). He was telling the apostles what they were to do. However, we must not see that this time of clear instruction has ended, for Jesus Himself said, "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away..." (John 16:7). Are we really to believe that Jesus gave the apostles clear teaching for them to obey and then left us with less? The Spirit Who led Christ in instructing the apostles has now given us His completed revelation and resides within us. Jesus said we are better off now with our instruction than the intense training these apostles received for 40 days.
    4. "speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God..."
During these forty days, Jesus presented Himself to the apostles, gave them many proofs of His resurrection (undoubtedly, much of the proofs involved teaching from the Old Testament), and spoke to them about the kingdom of God. We're not given much description for what that looked like, but the disciples response later will help us understand.
    5. "He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem..."
The kingdom of God is sandwiched between clear instructions. Luke lays out that He has commanded them, spoke about the kingdom of God and then commanded them regarding the Holy Spirit. He told them to stay in Jerusalem. He told them the baptism of the Spirit was coming. He told them it would be a matter of days. His instruction is very clear. Why would we assume He got foggy during the kingdom of God sections?
    6. "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?"
The disciples are all gathered together and ask Jesus, "Are you at this time restoring the kingdom to Israel?" Clearly, the disciples were fired up about the kingdom. Jesus had been speaking to them about it for forty days and now they have one big question: "Now?" There are also a couple of other things to note from their question: a.) It could be immediate. The disciples do not ask Jesus if the long, slow development of the world into a multi-millennia program is about to start. From what Jesus had taught them, we must assume the kingdom was described in a way that meant it could imminently arrive. b). It would be by Jesus. The disciples did not believe they would be restoring the kingdom. They asked Jesus if He was going to do it. However Jesus chose to speak of the kingdom, we have to assume that over these forty days it was presented in such a way that the disciples believed it was the Lord's work. They do not even ask if "we" are going to restore the kingdom, having some role within the restoration. All responsibility is placed on Jesus' shoulders. c). He would restore Israel. These apostles, trained on a crash course in the kingdom, came away believing He would restore Israel. This is key for two reasons. The word "restore" means to return to its former state. (This is the same word Luke used to describe Jesus healing a man's hand.) Apparently, when Jesus spoke of the kingdom, it sounded a lot like the kingdom of the Old Testament. Thus, they also believed the kingdom was coming to Israel.
    7. "It is not for you to know times or epochs..."
One could easily say the disciples got it all wrong and their question exposes their dense nature. Certainly, they had a track record of misunderstanding Jesus' teaching. Yet in this situation, Jesus only addresses one point of error: timing. He does not say, "Enough with the Israel talk, fellas, I'm done with her." He does not say, "No guys, this kingdom is a spiritual-inside-the-heart thing. It doesn't look anything like the kingdom used to." He doesn't even say, "Me? No guys, you are the ones who will usher in the kingdom!" To the idea of Jesus ushering in a kingdom much like what Israel had experienced before, Jesus simply says, "It's not for you to know when." If they were wrong about their expectations of the kingdom, Jesus did not set them straight.
    8. "And you shall be my witnesses..."
Witness is not really a kingdom related term. It's connotations are that they could testify to Christ's life (especially to His resurrection) and to His teaching. It also is the same word (martus) which can be translated "martyr" (Acts 22:20, Revelation 2:13). Christ commissions them for the role of being His witness.

While there are certain elements of the kingdom that are hard to understand, it is amazing how this confusion can turn "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36) into "this world is My kingdom." However, many today consider the kingdom already here, or that it is our responsibility to usher in the kingdom. Rarely is this conflict noticed.

But of all groups, shouldn't our fellowship notice this the most. Within our Statement of Faith (which is silent on issues like creation, complimentarianism and is surprisingly brief about God the Father), we articulate:
11. SECOND COMING. The personal, visible, and imminent return of Christ to remove His church from the earth (1 Thess. 4:16-17) before the tribulation (1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 3:10), and afterward to descend with the Church to establish His millennial kingdom upon the earth (Rev. 19:11-20:6).
Our fellowship takes a decidedly premillennial perspective. We determine that Israel and the Church are separate. We determine that Christ is returning before the Tribulation (let alone before the Millennium). We also determine that Christ will establish His kingdom rule. (On a side note, I also find it strange that those who know our fellowship and are attracted to this language have not read Greatness of the Kingdom, possibly the gold-standard book of our fellowship's history.)

Today, many employ kingdom language to describe good works that are happening on the earth. Helping the poor, dealing with political injustice and cleaning up the environment are considered kingdom work. Most startling, these works can often be severed from gospel proclaiming ministry and even implimented by unbelievers and yet still considered of the kingdom. Surely, in the kingdom the poor will be cared for, the environment will be clean and justice will defintely be on hand. Therefore, it is wise fo the believer to pursue these God pleasing issues today.

However, to believe we can usher the kingdom in through these efforts, or to belive this is all there is to the kingdom is to miss much of God's future plan. Christ alone will usher the kingdom into existence at God's appointed time. Yet, these details are ignored or misrepresented, despite the fact that it provides the clearer language in Scripture.

If people really wanted to adopt Jesus' language, they'd spend much more time speaking of these future elements. We could probably speak of the kingdom less, but speak more clearly about how the Word describes it, and people would understand it better. After all, the kingdom isn't totally "inconceivable."

Monday, March 26, 2007

ECM and Language--Does it REALLY Matter?

[My caveats had caveats, and it was making me naseous. So if you want to read that I'm not mean, actually like people and just want to honor God, you can read those caveats here.]

ECM and Language--Does it REALLY Matter?

Some will claim we just can't know what the Bible is saying. Others will claim the Bible may speak with authority, but we should not. Still others may just find criticizing offensive.

But occasionally you'll run into a people who doesn't mind critique. They welcome a dialogue about Scripture, for they do believe you can find truth within it. But as you begin to discuss specific words, they think you've crossed a line. It's one thing to evaluate the entirety of the message, it's quite another to start breaking down exact words. We should be concerned with the message, not the words used to convey the message. But can the two actually be separated?

You may be thinking, "Who claims the words don't matter? That's ridiculous." But if you examine the amount of coarse language, overstatement and redefinition of words, it is clear that some communicators are not concerned with the integrity of words. But teaching should not be done loosely:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.--James 3:1
A couple of points:
    Prevent it!
Become (ginesthe) is in the present middle imperitive plural. James is discouraging the church as a whole from having many teachers. It should not be an easy thing to teach in the church. A man should consider it carefully, but should also have a church there to protect him from the office if they see he is unqualified. James is so serious he does not merely tell the church to watch teachers carefully, he tells them to guard the position carefully.
    Strict Judgment
James says that the teacher will face a stricter judgment. James does not say the teaching will face scrutiny, but that the teacher will be judged. This must be understood as life and doctrine.

Specifically, there are three areas that concern me:
    1. Coarse Language
This is not an attack of Mark Driscoll, and I wouldn't even mention his name except I know some would immediately assume him. Though I have been offended by words Mark has said, I have found he is typically repentant about these words and has a church body that calls him to accountability. What is scary though, is that at times, I have heard people viligantly defend that Mark said nothing inappropriate even when he admits that he did. (Of course, there have been times he has been accused of being inappropriate when he has simply said what the Bible says. Thankfully, I have not heard him apologize for these situations.) However, some seem to think that unless a pastor uses a word you can't say on TV, then his speech has been fine. This just isn't our standard. The words that come out of our mouth matter, for they reveal the condition of the heart. If define relevant as not being any different than the world, then I guess this could be one way.
    2. Overstatement
Our soundbyte culture appears obsessed with shock value. It generates the maximum amount of effect for the minimal amount of time and effort. People (preacher included) are just too impatient to allow accurate statements to have their effect. Certainly, God's Word is so counter cultural that at times it will shock us to our senses. An example in more "fundamental" circles of the past would be to condemn all drinking instead of just drunkeness. However, today it typically swings the other way. A preacher is likely to proclaim as liberty those things which actually are not (like language: see above). Doctrines may even be amplified (or diminished) beyond their scope, just to "make a point." The teacher responds that he is simply trying to see the people come to action, but couldn't the same argument be made for Ananias' slight exaggeration?
    Fuzzy Teaching
True to our postmodern era, words are easily redefined. A preacher may use the same words, but they don't necessarily mean the same thing by them. Many of these words are terms to dictate doctrine. A preacher may claim to adhere to a doctrine, but he is choosing to redefine it. Also, a teacher may present a "new concept." He does not either confirm or deny the concept, he simply presents it. When questioned, he has the ability to release himself, telling the critic he didn't really support the position. He's just doing his part to keep the listener fully informed. But our call is not simply to let them know what doctrines are out there. Our call is to teach them how to obey Christ's commands. This must be done through direct, passionate, clear teaching.

We should be careful with teachers and they should be careful with their teaching. In the next three posts we'll carefully at some specific topics.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Weekend Update

Just some quick thoughts for the weekend, before I resume my series next week:
    1. Crickets--Speaking of the series, There's been relative silence this time around (email and comments). Is this because I'm so far off based ECM fans don't know how to respond? Is it that I have angered them to the point of no response? Did they quit coming to this blog a long time ago? (most likely). Either way, I think addressing these topics with the Word is the best way to truly start the conversation. Hopefully, I am handling the Word properly.
    2. Sad state of the World--While I'm not sure I would label this as persecution, it shows the world emnity with Christ. At the least, it should get the attention of all good brethren. (David received the same email from Joy and commented on it at his site.)
    3. Sad state of the Church--The Dunker Journal is trying to counter this, but they received this letter last year: "I appreciate receiving the BRF Witness even though my perspective on the Bible is much different from yours. I believe the Bible is no more or less than the words of the writers. Those words were never intended to be taken as the words of God, or to be taken as infallible, but are the writers' witness to the truth of God as they understood it. God is love and love takes precedence over truth." I mourn to think the writer of the letter was probably a pastor or the person sits under a pastor who teaches this rubish. (How in the world can we place truth and love in opposition to each other?)
    4. My NCAA Bracket is Dead.--That's what happens when you have Duke in the final. At least I beat Matt!
    5. Jack Baurer is dead.--At least he is in my house. After being challenged by a friend and also by a loved one, I decided there were more redeeming ways to spend my time. It's not really a sacrifice, for there are plenty of other things I enjoy. (By the way, I'm wondering if since I have quit watching "24," is this loved one now willing to quit letting the filth from Oprah, Dr. Phil and daytime soaps into their home?)
    6. Cast of "Lost" is dead.--That's my theory. I've only watched the show five or six times (QT loves it), but I think I figured it out. All of these people died in the crash. Kate, Jack, John, Sawyer, et al are just living out an afterlife experience. It's their chance to show whether they are redeemable or not. It's not remotely Christian, but it is new agey and makes for a challenging storyline. My theory: It's some sort of "Sixth Sense" type of thing.
    Updated Item 6b: Speaking of dead--Brian Orme has decided to shut down his blog. I'm not sure if he'll be deleting it or not, so you may want to check it out.
    7. This stuff is cool!--Of course, growing up a "car guy," I never got to play with this stuff. Tons of Rain + basement = learning about new stuff.
    8. Joshua commentary--I was challenged to put my sermons into written form. I'm working on the book of Joshua currently. This week, I posted Joshua 10:1-15 and Joshua 12:1-24. It takes a long time, but I love doing it. This may have become my new hobby.
    9. For Sale--We're selling our '94 Ford Explorer. It's purple, was called "Dora" and has 184,000 miles. It runs great, we've just run out of seats. (It's been owned by two pastors consecutively, if that doesn't scare you away!). $1500 o.b.o.
That's it for the weekend. If you'll excuse me, some ABC executives are knocking on my door to silence me!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

ECM and Teaching--Can We Use Authority?

[The caveats were gettting out of control. Therefore, I encourage you to check a former post to see that I desire to not be mean, rude or condescending.

I don't think all of the ECM is guilty of these issues. But the ECM has brought some of these issues to light. These issues, however, are prevelent in other areas of our fellowship as well.

If nothing else, I'm thankful that these issues caused me to look deeper into some passages.]

ECM and Teaching--Can We Use Authority?

In the last post, I suggested that Scripture teaches that it is perspicuous. Many today espouse a "hermeneutic of humility" that contradicts this point. Others, claim the Bible is clear and understandable (again, do not assume this means some texts are not difficult), yet they find that clear teaching is not as effective. Either people are turned off by past preachers who hammered every topic with iron clad confidence (even in areas where the Bible is silent), or our learning style has changed. Therefore, many preachers today choose to be vague. Ambiguity is in, clear directives are out. Many advocates of this teaching style claim a pretty prestigious line of teachers. In fact, aren't they simply teaching like Jesus did?
Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.--Matthew 13:13
Therefore, if we present a captivating story, it will draw our audience in. They may not comprehend all of the details and perhaps they may even misunderstand elements, but at least they will be listening. Is it concerning that people may not understand? Certainly. But Jesus acknowledges this tendency and yet prefers to use parable as a teaching method. Isn't it a good idea to follow in His footsteps?

Let's consider a few details about the text:
    1. Christ's Idiosyncratic Ministry--Christ did not speak in parables to help them understand His teaching, the text suggests He used parables to keep them from understanding Him. It has not been granted that the audience would know the mysteries of the kingdom. There are a number of reasons for this:
      a. God's sovereign choice (Romans 9:14-18). God is glorified to reveal that He will grant understanding to some and not grant it to others.
      b. Predetermined Plan (Acts 2:23). The Israelites had to reject their Messiah so that He could offer His life for their sins. Only by being rejected could Christ become our reconcilliation.
      c. To Fulfill His Word (Isaiah 6:9-10). Jesus tells His disciples that He teaches in parables to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. Not only is His crucifixion God's predetermined plan, His speaking in parables is one of God's predetermined forms to keep the crowd from listening.
    Christ's ambiguous teaching was for our benefit. However, the sacrifice has been made, and there clearly is no longer any need for us to prevent people from coming to repentance. I am shocked that so many who claim "humility" fail to see this giant distinction between their ministry and His.
    2. Non-Missional--Therefore, the parables were actually to prevent people from understanding the mysteries of the Kingdom. One must acknowledge that Jesus chose non-propositional story telling as a Kingdom stagnating teaching method. The Kingdom was not expanded (though it was further initiated) through this literary device.
    3. Solved Mystery--Jesus is not content to leave His elect in mystery. Consider:
      a. Mystery--Many people perk up when they read the phrase "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." However, they seem to ignore that His disciples were granted to know these mysteries. Jesus did not desire for them to remain mysterious.
      b. Knowledge Granted--Jesus tells the disciples that it has been granted to them to know the mysteries of the kingdom. They are not smarter or more clever than the others, they have simply been chosen.
      c. He Teaches Clearly--Lost in Jesus' admission to using parables is that He does so while clearly teaching propositionally. He explains why He teaches in parables, explains that they are different and then explains the parable...piece by piece. His propositional teaching, only available to the disciples (v 10), was the means through which God desired to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
      d. Good Soil--When Jesus is explaining His parable, He declares that the seed that fell on the good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it (Matthew 13:23)! His very parable was about people who would understand His teaching (and that the majority would not).
Yes, Jesus often spoke in parables. But he had a unique mission and even desired that some would misunderstand. Those who choose to model their teaching after this typically ignore these issues. Furthermore, they tend to neglect that Jesus explained many of His parables to His disciples. They often consider His parables ambiguous and claim to be following His pattern. However, they also tend to ignore that His teaching had amazing authority! In fact, the crowd observes His authority in teaching just after He has told them that the wise man hears His words and obeys them.

But the proponents of this "new humility" will counter, Christ maay have taught with authority, but certainly we cannot. We have no authority! This would be humble if only it did not place the person in direct conflict with Christ. For His instructions were:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."--Matthew 28:18-20
He does not call us to teach them all I have commanded, but teach them to obey all that I have commanded. This cannot be done in vague terms. A person must be introduced to Christ's commands and introduced to practical application. But how can we do this? Don't forget...

He has all authority.

And He is with us to the end.

It's time for us to teach like it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

ECM and Clarity--Is it humble?

[Understand that as I work through these posts, I am not saying these issues relate only to the emerging church movement. I also am not saying that every emerging church has these issues, some will not. All I am saying is that the emerging church movement (or ECM for my lazy fingers to type) has been a recent and/or prevalent catalyst for certain topics. I also understand that the ECM discussion may stir up topics for me that others do not see as germane. I am not claiming to be an expert and will confess that in many ways I feel like an outcast in my own generation.

If it appears I am painting the ECM with too broad a brush, I would encourage you to consider it should be even broader. Any atempt to address specific churches, pastors or teachers has typically resulted in me being considered mean, rude or non-brotherly. Instead, if an element of a movement causes us see an area of a concern, we should see if that broad brushstroke doesn't also cover some of our own ministry. Quite frankly, much concern I have about elements within the ECM are problems we have long had within our own fellowship of churches.

Furthermore, it is not my desire to be mean, pugnacious or divisive. I believe we are called to refute error when we see it. However, I do not believe this has to be personal, rude or demeaning. Justin Taylor has an excellent series of quotes from John Newton (1, 2, 3) regarding refutation. I hope I exercise the positive dimensions expressed in those quotes when addressing controversy. If you spot words or ideas in conflict to the standards addressed by Newton, please bring them to my attention.

Understand also, that I do not believe that modernism is glorious. Modernism has major problems too. I have no explanation for God's sovereign choosing of me, so I am baffled, yet grateful for His divine continuous working in this world. I do not believe science has all the answers and I do not deny that there is mystery in this world. These posts are in no way an attempt to call people back into modernity. I believe Christ's message trandscends all era and times, therefore I would not call myself a modernist either. Understand that this is not a nostalgia quest for me.

Understand also, that it makes me nauseous that I find it necessary to introduce a post with such a caveat.]


ECM and Clarity--Is it humble?

Have you ever had a person come to you with a "word" from God? "God told me you should buy this house! God told me you should apply for that new job!" even "God told me you should serve in this ministry!" Don't you just chafe at that? How do they know God told them that? Furthermore, if it is about me, why wouldn't God come and say that to me? Why did He need to go through that person?

But could the person speak with conviction regarding other issues? "God says it is wrong to lie. God says you should wait until marriage to become intimate. God says you should do that which is honoring to your parents." Can each of these things, grounded in Scripture, be said with clarity and conviction? Certainly, a person can say these things with confidence, for God has not only told them, but He has told all of us in His Word. These words come with authority, because they are not based on a person's feelings, emotions or thoughts, they are based on God's revealed Word.

Though Israel, the apostles and the early church all saw the Scriptures as authoritative, we eventually had to fight the battle over whether Scripture really has ultimate authority in the life of a believer. Once that battle was behind the chuch (as far as formally articulated positions) the next battle came over inspiration. Some were wiling to accept that the Word has authority, they just weren't sure what portions of the Book counted as Scripture. The church was again called to articulate a clear statement affirming that all Scripture is God-breathed. But with authority and inspiration being settled, the question has moved to perspicuity. Can we really know what the Scriptures are saying? Aren't some passages really hard to understand? Can those passages have any authority?

It may be of comfort that even an apostle acknowledged that portions of the Bible can be hard to understand. Peter said:
Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.--2 Peter 3:14-16
Some observations:
    1. Paul's letters = Scripture--This does not mean every thing Paul ever wrote is Scripture. However, Peter is saying that the letters the church had received from Paul are Scripture. He says that men distort what Paul says like they do the rest of Scripture. In one brief statement, Peter made it known that he considers Paul's letters to be on equal footing as the rest of Scripture.
    2. Some things are hard to understand--Peter acknowledges that Paul makes some difficult statements. He does not say it is easy to read or discern. He does not say that it takes no effort. Peter says that Paul has written the letters to the churches and some of the content is quite difficult.
    3. Peter loves Paul--Peter refers to him as a brother and beloved. This is after Paul has corrected Peter! (Galatians 2:11). Peter does not consider Paul's difficult writtings to be the by product of sin in Paul or a poor character trait. Peter says he loves Paul and that he is his brother.
    4. Paul is smart--In fact, Peter says that Paul's letters are a by product of the wisdom given him. Some portions are difficult, not because Paul was a poor writer or lacked knowledge. The text is difficult because he had been given profound wisdom.
    5. Paul's letters are useful--Peter only brings up Paul's letters because they help make Peter's point. Peter is expressing why the end times have not played out to completion. In this statement, with subsequent application for the church, Peter appeals to Paul's letters. He does not say, "This is what Paul was trying to say when he said..." Instead, he says "regard the patience of our Lord as salvation" just like Paul told you to do! He's not making a statement of clarification, he's making a statement of compliment. He is aligning himself, and his reader with a perspective they have already heard, understood and applied to their lives.
    6. The untaught and unstable distort Paul--Peter does not excuse the church for misunderstanding Paul. Instead, he condemns those who misunderstand what Paul says. Peter says the reason the miss the passage is due to their own instability and ignorance. Peter expects his audience to do otherwise.
      a. Unstable--Peter is really claiming that God will not grant them wisdom. They may ask for that wisdom, but they doesn't really believe God will grant it. In reality, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. James says that the man who asks but doubts God's ability to supply shouldn't expect it.
      b. Untaught--Peter is claiming that the Spirit is inactive or disabled in His ability to instruct them. The Spirit may have inspired it. He may have preserved it. But He is not functioning as a teacher. (The Spirit of God residing silently should be a troubling concept.) Peter then is claiming that they lack the annointing of the Holy Spirit.
    7. Missing the point can be destructive--Peter says that those who distort Paul do so to their own destruction. In fact, they do not just distort Paul, but they do this to the rest of the Scriptures. Since the problem is with the person and not with the author, their distortion extends beyond Paul to all of Scripture. They miss the point with Paul because they cannot handle the Scriptures at all.

In a nutshell, Peter acknowledges that Paul's writings are Scripture even though they are difficult. However, even though he considers them difficult, he expects the reader to understand them, for we have the Spirit to illumine the text. In fact, those who misuderstand difficult passages of Paul also misunderstand the rest of Scripture too. The complexity of the text does not diminish its authority.

While this is the traditional approach to Scripture, there is a new hermeneutic on the rise. It's called a "hermeneutic of humility." It's adherants claim that they, unlike so many arrogant Bible teachers of the past, are humble, admitting they don't know what the text means. They condemn a former perspective that believed the text has a particular meaning (authorial intent) that can be known and discerned by the reader. We should be more ambiguous, for direct statements are purely arrogant. But one cannot hold this perspective without being in bold defiance:
    1. Of Peter the Apostle--As we've already seen, this perspective disputes what Peter said. You can only practice this hermeneutic of humility if you are willing to say Peter got it wrong.
    2. Of the Apostle Paul--Paul tells Timothy that the Scriptures he has had from childhood (that would be the Old Testament only) were sufficient to produce a faith leading to salvation in Jesus Christ! Therefore, Paul did not see Old Testament passages as veiled and too difficult for Timothy to comprehend. In fact, he next directs Timothy to the fact that all Scripture is inspired and useful.
    3. Of Jesus Christ--Jesus tells a group of untrained and uneducated men that the only reason they can comprehend the parable is that God reveal it to them. Paul corroborates this idea when he says that the Word of God is not comprehendable unless God reveals it to us (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). In fact, never once does Jesus excuse the Israelites for misunderstanding Scripture, but He criticizes them for not reading and comprehending the Scriptures.

Hermeneutic of Humility advocates often cite Deuteronomy 29:29:
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.
They simply tell you they are celebrating the secret things of God. But is something which is difficult to understand the same as a secret? If I tell you something, even if it is difficult to comprehend, you could no longer say I was keeping it secret from you. Therefore, Moses is telling us that there are aspects to God which have not been revealed to us. There are things about God which He has not revealed, but has kept secret. However, it is inconsistent to then claim that God kept those things secret by revealing them in His Word. In fact, Moses says that the things revealed should now be proclaimed! Moses actually has confidence in the Israelites ability to understand the Scriptures, for he states that they should observe it! How could they obey what they do not understand?

And that appears to be the crux; obedience. Today, the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture is called into doubt, not over texts which are difficult to understand, but by texts difficult for our society to obey. Male headship is considered too vauge to know for certain, despite very clear text. Again, homosexuality is a topic too hazy, despite concrete statements. We can't know about the length of hell even thought Jesus said it is eternal. But this same humility is not exercised to ask Did Jesus really go to Capernaum? (as John MacArthur points out). This hermeneutic is not employed for all Scripture, but rather, only those Scriptures which our society finds hard to accept.

Because unregenerate society finds a text difficult to comprehend, we are encouraged to reconsider our approach. This is encouraged even though Scripture tells us they will be incapable of understanding.

A person dismisses the text because they claim they are exercising personal humility. However, they are really bringing God into a place of humiliation; stating that He is not capable of making His Word discernable to fallible men. We're not told it will be easy, but we are told God is capable. Peter says it will be difficult, but he also expected the people to understand.

We can speak with authority because we can speak the Word of God. And when God spoke, He did not mumble.

ECM and Criticism--Is it Biblical?

[Understand that as I work through these posts, I am not saying these issues relate only to the emerging church movement. I also am not saying that every emerging church has these issues, some will not. All I am saying is that the emerging church movement (or ECM as my lazy fingers will from here on type) has been a recent and/or prevalent catalyst for certain topics. I also understand that the ECM discussion may stir up topics for me that others do not see as germane. I am not claiming to be an expert and will confess that in many ways I feel like an outcast in my own generation.

Understand also, that I do not believe that modernism is glorious. Modernism has major problems too. I am baffled and grateful for God's continuous divine working in this world; for my own salvation has no other explanation. I do not believe science has all the answers and I do not deny that there is mystery in this world. These posts are in no way an attempt to call people back into modernity. I believe Christ's message trandscends all eras and times, therefore I would not call myself a modernist either. Understand that this is not a nostalgia quest for me.

Understand also, that it makes me nauseous that I find it necessary to introduce a post with such a caveat.]


ECM and Criticism--Is it Biblical?

Boy, wouldn't it be nice if in one sweeping post I could evaluate an entire movement and breakdown whether it is Biblical or not? If you came to this post expecting that to happen, you will be disappointed. I am far too verbose, the topic is way too broad, and let's be honest, your attention span is far too short to answer that question in one incredibly long post. Yes, I understand that the question "Is the ECM Biblical?" is not even a fair question to ask. (Don't make me start writing retractions again.) But if you look closely, that wasn't the question. Blog titles must be relatively short (It looks really odd on the FGBC blogpage if I use long titles) and therefore can affect clarity. I am not saying that I am critiquing the ECM on the basis of its biblicity. I'm asking:

Is even criticizing something, like the ECM, a Biblical practice?

In the past, this blog has received significant heat from some. I will admit that my posts are not strictly positive and complimentary. Typically, if I critique something on my site, within a day I will get a comment from someone that says, "Why do you have to be negative? If you didn't like the book/author/sermon/speaker/event/host/seminar/program/curriculum/etc just don't do it. You don't have to say it was bad. You simply could just point to what you consider a positive alternative." While this is not the fault of the ECM, I have received this comment every time I have said something non-complimentary about emerging/emergent. I am told the proper response would be to leave well enough alone and continue to serve in my specific sphere. If someone else wants to minister in that way, it's none of your business! I'm told I don't have to participate, but that I should just get out of the other guy's way.

I'm sorry, I just can't do that.

No seriously, I can't.

And pastor/elder, neither should you.

You see, I'm not claiming that I find it impossible for myself to do that. Contrary to my impression left on some, I do not crave confrontation. I think I generally have a healthy and normal attraction to peace and comfort. I do not go looking for a fight. I can not link my compulsion to speak where I see error to heredity, environment or even to sin (though my response may not always be pure). I chock it up to calling.

And no, I am not alluding to that ultimate Christian trump card. I am not stating that God gave me a vision in the evening, calling me to defend issues and point out error. I'm not trying to claim some experience or even burning in the bosom that compells me to refute error, but which--since it was entirely personal--is conveniently impossible to challenge. I have received a very real, very tangible, very public calling to refute error.

Don't believe me?

Check it out:
For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.--TItus 1:7-9

A couple of observations about this calling:
    1. Non-prioritized.
While many believe the opening statement that an overseerer must be above reproach (a concept repeated from verse 6) may be an umbrella introducing all of the other qualifications, it is clear as you work through all of the rest that this is not presented in any prioritization. Are we to claim that not being self-willed is more critical than not being controlled by substance? Obviously, each qualification is equally important.
    2. Not on the curve
Paul does not say that an overseer must generally adhere to these qualifications. This is the standard. Therefore, meeting 80% of the qualifications is not a "passing grade." Like the fruit of the Spirit, this is a list where the standard is to hold all of these qualifications. (Obviously, no man is able to claim absolute perfection in any of these areas. However, he must see enough sanctification in his life for others to acknowledge they see him as qualified in these areas.)
    3. Disqualified by being qualified?
These qualifications cannot be mutually exclusive. Contrary to the climate of our current culture, it is possible to refute errant doctrine without being quick-tempered, self-willed, pugnacious and out of control. Of course, it is possible to disagree with someone and fail to preserve these other qualifications (I have lost my cool before and failed to meet above standards). However, we must acknowledge that the action of refuting unsound doctrine is not disapproving action in itself. Just as we would expect any elder to be able to exhort in sound doctrine, Paul says he must hold fast to the teaching well enough to refute those who contradict as well.

I should also explain the term "doctrine." I am not speaking only of head knowledge and facts. Doctrine is not pleasing to God unless it plays an active role in the believer's life. Therefore, when I speak to doctrine, I am not simply saying that a person must affirm facts. They must follow those facts. A person can claim to understand the sovereignty of Christ, but if they lack obedience, it is not accurate for them to affirm Him as Lord (Luke 6:46). Therefore, when an elder is called to refute unsound doctrine, he does not merely evaluate a verbal profession, but is called to examine whether the mode is consistent with the creed. Does the person practice what they preach? If they regularly act in a way that is contrary to a faith statement they make, it must be concluded that they do not understand the faith statement they claim to affirm. Therefore, the elder must be prepared to lovingly refute their method, exposing the error in their understanding, and calling them to consistent thought and action. This is doctrine.

Therefore, if the ECM (or anyone else) incorporates a method which contradicts a doctrine, the elder is obligated to speak up. In fact, his ability to contradict can only be evidenced if he does, and his refutation of unsound doctrine is the outworking of his faithfulness to the word.

I've been told this as a pastor before. "It's one thing to say what you believe. It's okay to say what another believes. It's even okay to say that you believe differently than someone else. You may even find it appropriate to lay out your case for why you have a belief. However, you really shouldn't say someone else is wrong." I have been told this by so many within our fellowship, that I've wondered if it has replaced "The Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible" or even "Knowing Him and Making Him Known" (which wouldn't be tragic if the latter was lost).

Frankly, that's American advice, but it's unbiblical. It may sound consistently gracious, but it's self-contradictory as well. When I have received this "just do your own thing and leave the ECM alone" advice from others, I have noticed a few contradictions:
    1. Impeded Vision?--Postmodernity is a response to modernity. It is a reaction. Therefore, much in the ECM is a reaction to "traditional church." In nearly every post, book, sermon or ECM lecture I have listened to, they must make their point for why they do what they do by stating how the traditional church is doing it wrong. From my observation, the movement has no problem pointing out the "traditional church flaws" but can get quite upset when they are questioned.
    2. Brothers' Keepers?--Most in the ECM will acknowledge a desire to think more globally and outside of denominational borders. However, when one outside of their camp questions their practice, the thought is often raised that each man should mind his own business. This seems contrary to thinking globally. If I want to expand my thought from beyond my geography and I want to focus on the church beyond my denomination, shouldn't I also acknowledge my responsibility to my brother outside of my practice? If we are truly united in Christ, shouldn't we care about one another enough to confront one another?
    3. Method free?--Many in the ECM are frustrated with an easy believism that seperates belief from action. However, many seem readily willing to divide methodology and theology. But Peter said that life and godliness are borne out of true knowledge of God. Therefore, the two cannot be so easily extracted. What you believe will impact the way that you live, and the way you live is a reflection of your beliefs. Certainly liberties extend to many things. God is so gracious in the freedom He gives His bride. However, a methodology can be a manifestation of a faulty doctrine and therefore should be open for examination.

In the past, I have been called arrogant, rude, mean and childish for challenging certain things. My judgment has been questioned and my motives have been doubted. This has not just happened with the ECM discussion. It's happened when I've questioned books, sermons or even celebrity statements. Apparently, my ministry would just go smoother if I would keep my mouth (or laptop) shut. Perhaps people are right. Perhaps my role as an elder would be more peacable and calm. Most would not deny that we must exhort in sound doctrine, even though this can occasionally disturb the peace of ministry. Yet we know that peace is not our guide for action, God's calling is.

And He has called us to refute that which is unsound.

Entering the Conversation

Today, our District Ministerium entered the Emerging/Emergent conversation. I alluded to my role in this "panel" during a previous post and was shocked to see the number of comments and emails I received. Many wanted a full report as soon as I could comment (and quite frankly, were probably expecting the worst), so I thought I would put some thoughts out:
    1. No big deal.
Honestly, from the response I received, I think some thought this "panel" was a big deal. It was me, one other guy and a moderator speaking to about a dozen other guys (a couple who had to leave early). In all honesty, it probably was nothing but a "conversation."
    2. Very nice.
I really enjoyed being on the panel with Dale. He was prepared, educated, and cordial.
    3. Lots of Talk
I feel like I did most of the talking (maybe another reason I enjoyed Dale. He let me.)
    4. Too much to cover.
Honestly, we tried to cover the whole Emerging/Emergent distinction, presented Ed Stetzer's Relevants/Reconstructionists/Revisionists persepective, and Dale even had to cover what postmodernity is. It reminded me of cleaning my room as a teenager; you stand at the door wondering where in the world to start.
    5. Quite Doctrinal
Many might think this is a strictly methodological discussion. Yet, there needs to be a ton of theology incorporated for the discussion.
    6. Exegetical
During the panel, I only referred to three passages. I really wanted to address about ten. Anytime you're going to address concerns regarding pragmatism, especially if that affects issues regarding sufficiency and authority of Scripture, it is probably wisest to use Scripture in your discussion. Didn't really do this as much as I would have liked.
    7. "Clergy" only
Steve mentioned we'd like to schedule and evening ministerium some time, so that people who are unavailable during the day can attend. This would have been a good topic for that. It seems just as critical that "people in the pew" can seperate the urban myths and truth regarding this topic. (Please, don't think I am claiming to be the solution for seperating myth and truth...that's not my claim at all. But, for instance, it is nice to have a forum where you can make sure quotes are accurate and attributated to the right person.)
    8. Hanging with the Holmes-skillet
After the meeting, several guys were willing to carve out a little extra time to talk. Not only was the lunch great, but fellowship was even better. I enjoyed getting to know Dave, and getting to know other guys a little better. Many have stated to me that "conversations" like today can only happen in the context of relationship. I definitely see the strength in that, but also wonder what we are to do with guys we've never met, or guys who just aren't that accessible. As a fellowship, are we only accountable to the guys we know? Do I have the ability to say "Am I my brother's keeper?" about a pastor across the country? Honestly, this seems to be a major issue that must be addressed in our fellowship.
    9. Blog posts coming.
I know the electronic media cannot replace relationships. However, I do believe it can enhance them some. I believe I know several guys a bit better because of blogs, emails and web journals. It can be a decent way to deciminate material. Therefore, I do plan to post some articles regarding this topic again. Hopefully, those who have been frustrated at me before will understand it is merely an avenue to start the conversation. If I'm wrong, I hope they will share my error with me, rather than getting angry or resorting to name calling (both of which have happened before).

At the least, it can't happen anonymously anymore.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Why My Blog Just Got More Boring

A lot of people have commented that I preach without notes. This is not quite an accurate observation, since the text us usually underlined and marked and cross references and outlines are written anywhere that I can find a space. However, it is true that I do not create an outline or a transcript. It's a weird way to preach, but I've just kind of "fallen" into that form over the years.

Recently, I had the advantage to soak up some wisdom from a man with more ministry experience in his pinky than I have in my whole life. Not knowing my preaching style, but knowing my background, he spoke of a preacher we both knew. This man is a good orator, in fact, his ministry is probably most known for its preaching. This man articulated that the preacher's weakness is that he never kept notes. He stated the problem was two pronged:
    1. High demands
The preacher required, or atleast expected, that others should be able to preach without notes. Since it worked for him, he expected it should work for others. Obviously, success varied with this method, and the wiser gentleman pointed out that short term memory alone may have been what allowed the preacher to abandon notes.

While I have never considered demanding others to preach without notes (in fact, I've wondered whether I should keep the practice), I also made a note about short term memory. I do not want my messages to be relegated to short term memory for the listener, but I defintely want to prevent that for myself. How sad if I labor over a text only to forget it in a short time. I made a note to myself to evaluate whether messages were "sticking" with me.
    2. Lack of permanence
Most sermons have a short shelf life if they only reside in the ears of the listener. By not using notes, this man pointed out that the preacher does not have any work outside of his sermons to show for his labors. There are no commentaries or study guides from this man's life of preaching.

Yikes! That's totally me, I realized. As I left this man's office (with many, many more things to think about), this issue seemed the most practical at the moment. A sermon only reflects a portion of the work a pastor has done in the text, and even then it could quickly fade if not recorded somewhere. I made a determination to start working on building up Joshua on my Commentary blog. To date, I have two posts:

Joshua 11:1-23--a look at God's sovereign electing work even in the era of the conquest.

and Joshua 10:16-43--seeing Christ the victory in the defeat of the five kings.

Neither of these posts are sermon outlines. They are a hybrid of my message, my study and even my reflection after the message. The posts are long and may appear laborious to some. (As always, I highly covet your thoughts about improvements or clarification.) They take me quite a while to produce, yet they are so much more enjoyable that any post I have written for this site.

From here on out, this blog will probably get a lot less attention. But I'm ok with that. I'd rather be known for my work with the Word than my nonsensical ramblings on this site. Quite frankly, you should be quite bored with my thoughts by now (I know I am). I want to hear what He has to say!


That hurt! At least I know that CJ is smiling.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Shepherds' Conference

Some have wondered why I have not reviewed my first experience at the Shepherds' Conference. It was an amazing week that could comprise a month full of entries. However, I thought I would list the things that struck me the most from the week:
    1. My amazing wife.
Not even 12 hours into the trip, my wife was battling a flu bug (and the subsiquent mess) in our oldest daughter. Not only did she deal with our ill child (at 2 am), but she cleaned everything up and cared for her through the rest of the night. Needless to say, she had a very long first night of what she knew was going to be a challenging week. Yet she did it, believing that I would benefit greatly from the trip.
    2. Family
I can't give enough thank you's to those who helped by watching kids, driving up to our house, making dinners and providing piggy back rides for our kids while I was away. The way family and our church body supported Charity was a blessing for me, from many miles away.
    3. Friends
The trip would not have been the same without Tim, David, Matt and Kelly. Not only are these brothers a tremendous support, they have quickly become good friends (not so quickly with Matt, we've been friends since high school) and are the kind of men a soldier needs supporting him in the battle field. It is a privilege to lock arms with these guys. (Incidently, this trip would not have been remotely possible if not for the generous financial support from these brothers!)
    4. One Wise Brother
I had the privilege of gleaning wisdom from a man I had never before met. David encouraged a meeting with this brother, who guided us both through his thoughts on faithful ministry in the midst of a pragmatic culture. He provided much food for thought and was very candid. This alone, may have done the most to reinvigorate me as to the need for Biblical exposition. Personally, unbeknownst to him, he gave me some terrific personal advice. (Which I'll be sharing in my next post.)
    5. The Main Sessions
No speaker disappointed, though some stood out more than others. Perhaps later, I'll review the messages, presenting my thoughts on their content as well as my impressions. But for now, you can find a review here. All I will say for now is that the preaching was truly refreshing. (Of course, it probably didn't hurt that it typically followed an insane amount of special music, making even the musings of Gilbert Godfrey seem soothing.)
    6. Fellow GBC Shepherds
Though the food was the worst of the week (Denny's), the company was outstanding. Nearly 15 Grace Brethern men gathered together to discuss the conference, our ministries and our love for the Grace Brethren Fellowship. It's good to know there are like minded men throughout the country, even if some are considered "flaky whackballs."
    7. Books.
Read here.
    8. Shepherds' Soapbox
Apparently, this was a first. From the response, I assume it's not the last. After the very last session, the speakers were spread out among the Grace Community campus. Each was then interviewed by a host. This segment was not recorded so the speakers could be a lot more personal, candid (and funny). I'd tell you what Mark Dever had to say, but I'd have to kill you.
    9. Seminars
I enjoyed a very enlightening children's ministry seminar, and was enjoying an amazing seminar by Phil Johnson when my cell phone called me out of the room. (At least it was worthwhile, an invitation to be on a panel to discuss the emerging church. [Tongue planted firmly in cheek as I realize I gave up the chance to finish hearing Johnson speak on Calvinism so I could say yes to being executed in front of my district!])
    10. In-n-Out
That's not a typo. Though it may possibly be the best option ever for cattle placed between wheat, it paled in comparrison to the other ways which blessed my socks off during the week.

[Not making the list: an encounter with a man named Chris, flying first class on the way out, being told "go back to work, Daddy" by my son when I first arrived home.]

Friday, March 09, 2007

More Meat for the Caribou

As a good Brethren, we do everything in threes. I've been fed thrice today...

I got to meet a godly man who cares deeply about the Lord and our fellowship

I got to eat some great meat (twice)


1-3 John by John MacArthur
The Truth War by John MacArthur
Because the Time is Near by John MacArthur
The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (leatherbound)
The Second Coming by John MacArthur
Why We Believe the Bible is True (DVD) by John MacArthur
Acts by James Montgomery Boice
Foundations of Grace by Steve Lawson
The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steve Lawson
Meet the Puritans by Beeke & Pederson
Assured by God by Burk Parsons
For the Sake of His Name by David Doran
Life in the Body of Christ by Curtis Thomas
A Method for Prayer by Matthew Henry
What Jesus Demands from the World by John Piper

Total Retail Value (not calculating two new resources): $251.53

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Financial Quotes

I'm about a fifth of the way through Money, Possessions and Eternity by Randy Alcorn. Here are some quotes I've highlighted:
He who has God and everything has not more than he who has God alone.--CS Lewis

Where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost His authority.--John Calvin

The type of man most likely to grow very, very rich is the type of man least likely to enjoy it.--Max Gunther

The poorest man I know is the man who has nothing but money.--John D Rockefeller

[In case you're wondering...yes, the Bible has much better things to say about money than these things. I'm preparing for a series this summer on possessions and it may include a few of these quotes...but no, they will not be the foundation of my message...they will simply illustrate truth already found in the Word.]

Saturday, March 03, 2007


A quick look at the posts before this will reveal that I was not pleased after a certain message. I sat there in frustration wondering why a pastor wouldn't preach from the Word. Not only was all power sucked out from his message, but he also failed to connect with his audience (the only reason I could see why he would preach something other than Scripture).

Then Voddie Baucham restored the pulpit to a place for Biblical preaching.Voddie's text for the morning was Ephesians 6:1-4. In order to do an adequate job, Voddie had to start at Ephesians 5:15. (You can read my understanding of his textual outline here.) Voddie preached a hard hitting message that we are failing with out teens because we are "sealing them in unbelief." By this phrase, he means that we are giving assurance of salvation to students who are not really believers but merely have repeated some magical words. He addresses Christian statistics we have regularly heard:
    90% of all converts come to know Christ before age 18.
    Of those, 90% come to know Christ before age 14.
    88% of students who graduate from youth ministry walk away from their faith in college
.Baucham points out that the statistics, in light of the teaching in 1 John 2:18-20, suggest that many children we are counting as converts aren't really.

From there, he walked through Ephesians 5 and 6 to establish what a Spirit filled person should look like. For a young person, according to Ephesians 6:1-3, obedience to parents is a primary gauge. Baucham laid out that parents are the foremost discipleship tool in a student's life.

Voddie used no powerpoint. There were no visuals. He didn't quote celebrities. He spoke about parenting to a room half-filled with college students (because they stayed after the mandatory chapel). To use a word ruined by a modern mountain marriage, he had the listener "captivated."

Where did the power in the message lie? It wasn't in his catchy form; he didn't try any of the tricks. It wasn't in his pursuit to speak on a relevant catchy topic; parents probably only made up half the room. It wasn't that he spoke in such a way as to avoid debate; there were things in his message I disagreed with.

As he closed the message in prayer, I was closing my Bible...you see, he actually made me open it in the first place!

Thank you Voddie, it tasted so good.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Be Gracious, We're Almost Done...

Ok, you're sick of the series. In many ways, so am I. I'm not writing this because I take pleasure in critiquing the message (I"ve said that before.) However, I am only one article away from sharing my real passion; the power from preaching the Word of God!

This series has not been an exegesis of a text, nor the evaluation of someone else's exegesis (since the preacher gave me nothing to exegete but a song). Knowing this series has been weak, I hope that is because my strength lies in exegesis (a boy can hope, right?). I've already written what bothered me about the sermon, why it bothered me, and even a side issue about hymns.

Why would a preacher not use the Word of God? Do I believe Dr. Jeremiah denies it is sufficient? Hardly. As far as I can see, there is only one reason to choose a different source...he believed it would reach his audience better. To reach this young audience (it was during the college's chapel period), Dr. Jeremiah employed the following tactics:

Powerpoint Visuals
As he told a moving story, a couple pictures displayed in the background of the character he was referencing. He did not point out the pictures, making it awkward and interupting his story. Instead, he simply continued his narrative, allowing the visuals to help those who like to see things and not just hear.

Video Clips
Also during his message, he twice directed the audience's attention to the screen. He played a beautiful rendition by a woman in the 60's (?, sorry, I don't remember her name. Clothing and video quality made me think it was before my time.). Later, he directed our attention to watch a scene from Les Miserables, to assist him in making his point.

Dr. Jeremiah also took a portion of time to rattle off the perspectives on Amazing Grace from a list of famous people. He was able to reherse persepctives from scientists, to musicians, politicians, to actors. He listed off all of the optional views to the lyrics.

[As a side point, this was the most disturbing point of the message to me. Nearly every quote he read presented grace in some form of a godless perspective. Some of the quotes were confusing, people striving to be so deep their statement lacked any clarity. However, some were very clear and quite rebellious toward God. At the end of all the quotes, Dr. Jeremiah stated (again, loosely quoting) "I assume God must be laughing, because I am at these responses." I found myself thinking, "He's probably angry and broken hearted, but laughing? I doubt it." It seemed an odd moment in the midst of his message.}

Of course, this message came just as the movie Amazing Grace came out. Of course, the movie is about Wilberforce, not really Newton, but still, it is hard to be more current than a nationwide movie coming out.

And the outcome?

Videos, visuals, celebrity quotes all working around a theme that matches a major motion picture...is there any more that a speaker can do to reach his college-aged audience? I would argue yes.

You see, not only do I believe the preacher has a duty to build his message form the Word of God (which I acknowledge, I haven't done a great job Biblically justifying...perhaps that's a series for later), I also believe it is ineffectual to do otherwise. Dr. Jeremiah did all the things that should have had the audience eating out of his hand. However, they weren't. In fact, as a man stood at the podium and welcomed the pastors who had invaded the campus, he announced that Dr. Jeremiah was going to be preaching (crickets) and that Voddie Baucham would be sharing afterwards (breakout of applause). As I hope to show tomorrow, Voddie's message had zero visuals, no famous quotes and not a single movie reference.

Scripture tells us that the Word of God is powerful and effective. It has great ability to bind our consciences and is a gracious means of sanctification God uses in our lives. However, nowhere does Scripture tells us that culture is also a powerful and effective tool. We do not read from the Book that entertainment, philosophy or sporting activities have the ability to conform us to the image of Christ.

The preacher certainly has at his disposal the ability to use any of these devices to articulate Biblical truth (and I don't care about the order. The illustration can come first, or the Biblical foundation). But any illustration used must be used to illustrate the point made from Scripture.

If a preacher does not use the Word of God, he should not be surprised when he does not see godly results. Afterall, the listener is simply choosing to not follow the advice of a man, a movie or a magazine...something we should be instructing our Body not to go to for godliness anyway. If we want them going to the Book, why wouldn't we go there when we preach?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

By Hymn and For Hymn

As I mentioned before, the process of review is not a delightful process. However, if it can clarify the role of the preacher, it is beneficial. Dr Jeremiah's message was not heresy and I don't believe he sinned in his presentation. However, I do believe it missed the mark of a good sermon. I explained why I believe his illustrations fell short.

As far as I can remember, Dr. Jeremiah did reference two verses (Ephesians 2:8-9 was one passage). However, the majority of his time was spent in another text:

Amazing Grace

It may be necesary to restate that I do not mind illustrations. I do not mind references to media, history or personal accounts. I do not believe it is wrong to use a song as an illustration. However, an illustration is intended to come alongside the point you have already made. It is not intended to make the point for you. In Dr. Jeremiah's sermon, the text he chose to use to build the case that grace is amazing was the song. The illustrations were the stories I listed in the last article.

But wait, someone will ask, Didn't Paul appeal to hymns and literature to make his points? There are two interesting things to consider when we examine this arguement:
    1. He was recording Scripture for us. He did not have the luxury of the full canon to work with. In fact, he was an instrument used to complete the Scriptures. Therefore, as he places lyrics from ancient hymns in the text of his letters he is simultaneously making them the Word of God. We obviously do not have that ministry today.
    2. The poets (Acts 17:28) are quoted not to make Paul's point but to illustrate it. He has already established that God created the world, that He does not dwell in man made temples, and that all mankind has originated from one man. He's teaching them Genesis first, then illustrating with their own poets. (Of course, immediately after quoting the poets, he attacks idolatry and tells people to repent...not a real trendy message.)
But we do not have any expository sermons in Scripture, someone will argue. You're arguing for a style we don't even find in the Bible! Two more thoughts:
    1. We do not read the manuscripts of sermons in Scripture. No one was taking dictation as Peter, Paul or even Jesus preached. We've got bits and pieces, summaries of their messages. These summaries are perfectly accurate, but they are not word for word.
    2. I would challenge anyone, even with just these summaries, present to me any message in the New Testament which does not incorporate Old Testament (their Scriptures) into its text (that's why cross references are so rich!) or prophetic revelation. The messages we read are peppered with either Scripture quotations or the direct result of divine revelation to the apostles. The Word of God was central to the men who God worked through to give us the Word of God!
But it's a beautiful hymn, you're thinking, what's the harm? I'm glad you finally asked!

A few times, Dr. Jeremiah referred to this hymn as one of "God's chosen hymns." While God certainly gifted men to write songs (no one wants to sing anything I've written!), He has not inspired them. They are not God-breathed, but God's Word alone is. This is not to diminish the God-given ability of John Newton, however the song should not be inserted into our Canon. Not only did Dr. Jeremiah speak words that make is sound like John Newton was carried along by the Holy Spirit as he recorded the lyrics. (Ironically, Jeremiah explained that Newton wrote this hymn to sing at the conclusion of a sermon he had preached. In fact, it was his habit to write hymns to accompany his sermons. It does not seem that his hymns, however, were ever the content of his sermons.)

I realize that this paragraph will probably be upsetting to some. Therefore, I will offer this brief statement:

[I like hymns. I really do. I think it is great for a church to sing ancient (relative term) songs to remind the Body that many have gone faithfully before them. There are also wonderful lyrics in many (not all) hymns. I believe hymns are a wonderful part of our corporate worship and churches that neglect them miss out.]

However, hymns are no more sanctified than other forms of music. We concluded Dr. Jeremiah's sermon by singing "Amazing Grace" together (to the arrangement we all are most familiar with, which is rather new). Ironically, the next session started with two newer songs, each of which was more clearly taken from Scripture than "Amazing Grace." I am not stating the newer songs are more Biblical (many are not), but I am stating the age of a song does not equate to Biblical clarity. It appeared that nostalgia and age played a role in making "Amazing Grace" a more worshipful song than others.

Dr. Jeremiah explained that many people's favorite verse (5) does not even come from Newton's pen. Instead, it is borrowed from some lines by Harriet Beecher Stowe. He also acknowledged that the church doesn't even sing a couple of the verses that Newton actually wrote. However, as we concluded with the song, we skipped these "lost" verses by Newton and finished triumphantly with the verse from Beecher Stowe. Using extrabiblial sources as your primary text naturally allows for this. You select what you like, and discard the rest. Maybe you even adapt or modify. Of course, this lacks any form of authority, for the listener also has the privilege to add or discard, accept or disregard. The preacher's ability to pick and choose what he wants transfers over to the listener's right to do likewise.

I know some have not liked this series, and I acknowledge as I write this, I know I am struggling to convey my thoughts. It is hard for me to try to systematically walk through a sermon when I don't have a text as a starting point. (I must give McLaren props, he may have missed the point of the text, but atleast he went to one.) Ironically, that is exactly my point. Dr Jeremiah's sermon is hard to assess because it lacks an anchor.

In reality, I sat there for forty minutes waiting for the sermon to begin. It felt like he presented his introduction only to realize he had run out of time. And as I hope to show tomorrow, I don't think I'm the only one who didn't connect with it.