Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Emerging Church

Scot McKnight recently addressed Westminister Theological Seminary concerning about the Emerging Church, asking this question: "What is the Emerging Church (pdf link)?" Basically, his premise is that it is best to allow the emerging church/movement/thinkers to speak for themselves in defining what the movement/conversation is or isn't. He is particularly critical of D.A. Carson whose book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church essentially narrows the discussion about the emerging church to one person (Brian McLaren, perhaps the most visible of emerging thinkers in the United States) and one issue (postmodern epistemology). McKnight's critique of Carson's book is valid because the emerging movement is not represented well by McLaren alone, nor is it simply a movement defined by its epistemology, or as emerging thinkers probably would argue and agree, lack of concrete epistemology.

McKnight's address is long (30 pages but worth the read), so let me take some time to address a few of the prominent issues in the article.

Concerning theology or theological definitions... "To force the emerging movement into a theological definition is to do violence to it - it isn't a theological movement and so can't be defined that way." This is precisely the problem that many conservative evangelicals have with the emerging, postmodern approach to epistemology, mission and ecclesiology. The emerging church attempts to avoid theological statments about God because postmodern epistemology does not allow for absolute truth statements about anything since it is impossible to know anything with absolute certainty. But in seeking to avoid making theological statements about God, it fails to recognize that the "conversation" cannot avoid speaking theologically about God, not matter how one tries to dance around the issues. The funny thing is that McKnight, who has openly aligned himself with the emerging church, later states that "every movement is theological in one way or another, and that means the emerging movement is a theological movement." But within this admission McKnight concedes that there really are no boundaries or parameters to emerging theology, stating that it is "best to see it as a conversation about theology, with all kinds of theologies representeed, with a core adhering to the classical creeds in a new key." Of course, the danger to this is that if there are no clear propositions about God revealed in Scripture that we can hold to as Truth, then we indiscriminantly widen the gates for entrance into the Kindgom, gates leading to a path Jesus Himself said was quite narrow. This, of course, is not a problem for the emerging church because they make no attempt to determine who "belongs" to the Kingdom because they are skeptical of our ability to know such things. While I would agree with this statement to the degree that it is impossible for us to discern the motives and intentions of a person's heart, thus making it impossible for us to know with certainty who the sons and daughters of God really are, it is not impossible for us to speak with confidence about a person's confession of Jesus if the evidence of their faith is in line with the Christian ethic defined by Scripture.

Concerning the Penal Substitutionary Death of Jesus...McKnight points out that one critical flaw of D.A. Carson's book about the emerging church is that he names Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke as one of the most influential leaders of the emerging movement in the US and Britian respectively. Chalke has famously equated penal substitition with divine child abuse, and thus, by identifying him with the emerging movement, some are now saying that the entire movement sees the atonement as Chalke does, and thus denies the necessity of the penal substitution of Jesus. Chalke has openly denied being a part of the emerging church in the UK. I think you see the problem. Misinformation.

But what about Brian McLaren? He is the most visible public figure in the movement and his books Generous Orthodoxy and A New Kind of Christian have thrust the Emergent Village and emerging movement (which are two different things if you ask McKnight) into the religious spotlight. McLaren is a slick salesman and is gifted with the use of language (which is ironic considered the skepticism of McLaren's collegues about language - we'll get to that later). Does McLaren deny the penal substitutionary work of Jesus (meaning Jesus was satisfying God's wrath for our sin, something that is seemingly clear in Scripture) as necessary for salvation? McLaren has not outright denied penal substitution, but he has endorsed Alan Jones' book Reimagining Christianity as a work that "stimulates and encourages me deeply", a book that denies the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. Jones writes: "Implicit in the cross that Jesus' sacrifice was to appease an angry God. Penal substitution was the name of this vile doctrine (168)." So McLaren may not have denied it publicly, but why endorse a book that does if you aren't at least sympathetic to the author's view?

The Suspicion of Language...LeRon Shults claims (and McKnight believes he is right) "from a theological perspective, this fixation with propositions can easiliy lead to the attempt to use the finite tool of language on an absolute Presence that transcends and embraces all finite reality. Languages are culturally constructed symbol systems that enable humans to communicate by designating one finite reality in distinction from another. The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping, as all the graet theologians from Irenaeus to Calvin have insisted, and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry." While is is true that we struggle to capture God with our finite propositional structures, this should not make us paranoid in our suspicion of the inadequacies language, or fearful of revealed propositions described by language, albiet imperfectly.

The spiritual reality about language is that language is unquestionably one of the primary ways in which God has revealed Himself to us (John 1:1-4, 14). Knowledge is imparted through language. Language, God speaking to man through His own voice, Jesus, angels, prophets, and Scripture is the means of His revelation. John Piper said, "Jesus is honored by us knowing and treasuring who He is, not who we aren't sure He is." The emerging church says the joy is in the journey. The journey is a veiled mystery. But the mystery is not in what we do not know, but that there is infinitely more to know about God (Eph 2:7).

All in all the article is interesting, particularly if you want a better perspective on the emerging church and what all the hoop-la is about.

Funny Post About Today's Holiday

Martin Erasmus Hinn

Spirituality and Church

George Barna, in his book Revolution, estimates that there are some 20 million born again Christians in the United States for whom the primary means of spiritual experience and expression is not the local church, and that by 2025 there will be 70 million such persons (Barna later revised that estimate from 20 million to 5 million). What is important is not that Barna's estimates are completely accurate, but that they do, in fact, represent an alarming trend regarding spirituality and the local church in Western culture. Whether the number is 20 million or 5 million, there are literally millions of people who: 1) claim to have a personal, transforming, regenerate relationship with Jesus Christ; 2) experience Jesus through means separate from the local church; and 3) have no regard for what Scripture teaches us about the local church. This is a sobering statistic.

If we are to take Scripture seriously, then we can logically come to no other conclusion than to question the legitimacy of the faith claims of those who have spiritual experiences and expressions apart from the local church. The reason for this is that Scripture itself testifies to the importance of the local church in sustaining, cultivating and nurturing a vibrant, mature spiritual faith and practice rooted in belief in Jesus. It is clear that when Paul teaches us that Jesus died for the church (Eph 5:25), he means the universal body of Christ comprised of believers from all over the world, represented by numerous denominations, who express their faith in many multi-cultral, richly diverse ways, yet all rooted in the foundational truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

However, the universal church is uniquely expressed in the culture in the assembly of the local body of believers. The universal church is largely invisible, whereas the visible church is expressed by the gathering of Christians in a unique, particular local setting. We see the church beginning to take this shape early in the 1st century (Acts 2:42 cf; Rom 16:5; 1Cor 16:19).

The purpose of Jesus' death for the church was to "sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph 5:26-27). But how does this happen? Can it not happen within the context of an individual, personalized spiritual experience apart from the local church? The author of Hebrews indicates that it cannot.

In Hebrews we learn that a spiritual community is necessary for the maturation of a genuine experience with Jesus Christ. "Take care, brothers, lets there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today', that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end" (3:12-14). What is implicit in this text is the reality that it takes a believing community encouraging us to keep our wayward, wandering hearts from falling into unbelief, and thus keeping us from inheriting God's promised rest.

Later in Hebrews we learn that the gathering of Christian believers is necessary so that we will do what we were made to do in Christ Jesus - which is good works (Eph 2:10). "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (10:24-25).

So what shall we say to the 20 million (or is it 5 million) who say they know Jesus but never gather with the Bride He laid down his life for? Either they: 1) have not had a genuine experience with Jesus Christ but are deceived, blinded by the lies of Satan, and a highly complex culture of individualized, privatized spirituality; or 2) may have the appearance, on some level, of having been converted by the Holy Spirit by faith, but in their ignorance and immaturity are living in sin, and are living in a state of spiritual peril because their absence from the local church exposes them to the very real possibility of unbelief, which would expose their confession of Jesus as fraudulent; or 3) are genuinely converted and will soon experience the discipline of God that will bring their sinful neglect of Jesus' Bride to the surface, leading to their repentance and restoration among God's people.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Evangelical Universalist

This would appear to be a contradiction in terms, but not so says author Gregory Macdonald. The aim of Macdonald's recent book titled The Evangelical Universalist is to demonstrate that "there is no inconsistency between being Evangelical and Universalist." On the surface it appears that it would be impossible to reconcile evangelicalism (which emphasizes personal conversion by faith in Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible) and universalism (the belief that all persons will ultimately be saved from eternal separation from Creator God), but Macdonald cleverly navigates around this charge by stating that he is an exclusivist, meaning "I am inclined to think one has to have explicit faith in Christ to be saved. So God's purpose of saving all is only achieved through the proclamation of the gospel and its reception with repentance and faith." The problem, however, I find with this statement is that Macdonald presupposes that those in hell will repent and believe in Jesus with no clear justification for this view from Scripture (at least not in the interview. To be fair, he may deal with this view with a biblical text in his book). Hypothesizing that Macdonald is correct, that it is somehow possible, and in his view a certainty, that the dead in hell will repent and place their faith in Jesus, how does one reconcile such a notion with Revelation 14:9-11?

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.

The problem here is clear. How is it that those who are in torment day and night, with no rest, who are worshipers (present active tense indicating on-going action) of the beast and its image, a clear indication of active defiance against the presence of holy angels and the Lamb (see v10), will then turn and place faith in Jesus through repentance, thus leading to their salvation? It is clear that the "smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever". At some point, if Macdonald's "hopeful dogmatic universalism" (which essentially means that Macdonald believes in universalism but is only hopeful because he isn't 100% certain he is correct. As a side note, I would even argue that he isn't dogmatic when his own confession is that he doesn't believe orthodox Christians who hold to traditional views of hell and eternity should adopt universalism - to which I say - what is the point of the book then?), if his view is correct, the flames will one day be extinguished because all who go to hell because they did not believe in Jesus on earth, will one day believe in Jesus in hell, and there will no longer be any smoke of torment rising for all ages. While not a pleasant thing to think about, either Macdonald is grossly mistaken, or the Apostle John had something in his eye when he saw and recorded this vision in Revelation. I think the implications of this passage are clear. The scathing flames of hell will not turn the heart of unbelief in repentance towards God; they will ignite hatred and defiance towards their Holy Judge.

Furthermore, the Gospel according to Luke also offers us some insight to the impossibility that those in hell will ever repent for their treason against their Creator. In Luke 16:19-31, when teh rich man is in torment in hell, he calls out to Abraham, not seeking mercy for deliverance from his torment, but rather that Abraham would provide some comfort for his parched tongue (16:24). His anguish and torment is clear, but yet there are no signs of sorrow for sin. Abraham then tells the man that there is no possible way for anyone in hell to cross over the chasm fixed between them. The rich man then pleads with Abraham to send someone to tell his five brothers about hell so that they will believe and not follow the folly of their deceased relative. But Abraham's words are telling about the heart of unbelief. He tells the man that his brothers have the opportunity to listen to Moses and the Prophets, and thus escape torment. But the rich man indicates that they will not believe the proclaimed message, but will listen if "someone goes to them from the dead, [then] they will repent". Abraham responds, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead." This passage does teach that those in hell will want relief from their suffering, but it does not indicate that they will seek reconcilliation with God.

A final observation about Macdonald's interview is how Macdonald speaks about the difference universalism makes to him and his faith in God.

It fills me with hope for the future. It fills me with worship for God's love, his providence, his wisdom, and his justice. It increases my view of the power of the cross, of the mercy and grace of God. It helps me make sense of God's wrath and punishment. It helps me hold together God's love and wrath in a more satisfactory way than I could previously. It helps me deal more satisfactorily with the problem of evil (the victims of injustice will really have th wrongs they have suffered righted instead of going from the frying pan to the fire), it means I have something to say to the Christian parent who has lost a child that had rejected the gospel. My view of sin has not been decreased but my view of grace has been increased - where sin abounds grace abounds all the more. I now believe that God will heal all the wounds of sin in his beautiful creation. Sin will not have the last word.

It certainly fills one with hope for the future if their is doubt of the substance of their faith in Jesus. I can't really see how it makes sense of God's justice at all though. Universalism provides almost no motivation for personal holiness. It certainly widens the scope of Jesus' work on the cross as it now applies to all people at all times in all places because they will believe - either here on earth - or eventually after a season of suffering in hell. I have no idea how universalism adequately answers the problem of evil. Will the murdered holocaust victim feel any sense of vindication for an unrepentant Adolf Hitler who only repents after literally experiencing the torment of hell because of his unbelief, a redemption that clearly is coercively influenced by the pain of his current circumstance? Will this person be satsified in the way the Macdonald is? And is it really true that Macdonald does not now have a significantly temperate view of sin? In what ways does sin really matter if all are going to experience God's salvation anyway? If God is going to redeem people, even through faith in Jesus, while in hell, what exactly is the point of Jesus' suffering on the cross? Is it even necessary if God has chosen to produce repentance out of the suffering of hell?

Interesting article, and I hope it provokes some thoughts and discourse in your mind as well. I hope you will take time to read the interview.


This morning as I read demand #17 (Humble Yourself in Childlikeness) from John Piper's latest release What Jesus Demands from the World, I was struck by this sentence: "The desire to be great - so deeply engrained is the craving." These words immediately pricked my self-admiring, self-sufficient, self-glorifying heart, and my ruptured pride slowly trickled onto the floor of my conscience. And so I am faced with a choice today. I can ignore the Spirit-guided missle aimed for my heart, or I can repent and face up to the reality that I desire greatness. I want to be noticed, praised, adored, esteemed and respected. I want these things - and yet these desires, if fulfilled, will keep me from believing the Gospel - the truth that I am an unworthy, needy, sinful servant (Luke 17:10) - as I should.

This desire - the craving to be great - is prevalent in the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and so I suppose that I am in good company - if one can be in such considering the outcome of a life of greatness as measured by earthly wisdom is an eternity separated from the grace and mercy of God. In Matthew 18:1 the disciples asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Jesus' response: "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like childre, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." In Matthew 23:11 Jesus told the Pharisees and his disciples: "The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." In Mark 9 the disciples are arguing in Capernaum about who was the greatest (9:33). Jesus told them (notice that they never tell Jesus what they were arguing about, and yet he knows), "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all (9:35)." And at Jesus' final meal, hours before he would be mocked, ridiculed, openly despised, tortured and murdered, Luke tells us that Jesus' closest friends were once again arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus said to them: "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at the table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves (22:25-27)." Just so that Jesus' point is clear, he reveals than his disciples must follow in his footsteps on the path to the gates of Jesus' kingdom: "A disciple is not about his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household" (10:24-25).

What does this mean? Jesus offers the answer in his response. True greatness is not found in adoration and praise from men. It is not found in places of prestige and power. It cannot be achieved in showers of accolades, rewards and recognition. It is not obtained through self-righteous, self-deluded judgments and comparisons with other sinners. It is found in child-like humility and dependence upon God, complete trust that He will provide for our needs. It is found in the self-abasement of service to others - both friend and foe - for the sake of loving people made in the image of God to the praise of His glory.

But we must sound the warning, and the warning is the reality that even as we try to empty our hearts of all pride and cravings for greatness, we often face a similar pitfall when our "humility" and "service" become a means of self-justification, and thus, another way to pursue greatness in the eyes of men. When we want people to notice our humility, acts of service, and forgiving spirit, we are as guilty of seeking greatness as when we desire it through ambition.

And so we must always remind ourselves that we have received more from God than we deserve, and that ultimately we deserve nothing of what we receive. All that God requires from us we must do, not because God's demands are a means for us to secure more comfort or blessing, but simply because we are His creatures, made in His image, for the purpose of glorifying His greatness for all eternity.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


"But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'" (Luke 18:13)

If the truth be told, I'm not very much like this tax collector. I often see no need to stand at a distance from God's holiness (...standing far off...), because I often try to justify myself by my self-declared meritorious works. And instead of leaving my head bowed in humility and shame at my sinful condition (...would not even lift his eyes to heaven...), I'm more like the materialistic child scurrying around the Christmas tree, looking for the other gifts purchased for me as I cast aside my barely unopened present rather than being content that God has seen fit to give me even one undeserved token of affection and grace. I'm much more like the Pharisee who measured his self-declared righteousness against that of extortioners, adulterers and unjust me (18:11), with my eyes fixed firmly on others as I meticulously scour over their character for signs of weakness and size them up so I can say to the Father, "Look, I'm nothing like them with their grotesque blemishes and moral collapses.

It is for these reasons and more that I need the Gospel and a repentant heart so desperately. If you have not read Tim Keller's All Life Is Repentance, I suggest you take the time to read it. You may, like me, discover how guilty you are of stripping the Gospel of its power in your refusal to say, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner!"

Monday, October 23, 2006

Curse the Fall

This past Friday in Atlanta, Georgia a lovesick 16-year old teenage girl intentionally drove her car at a high-rate of speed into another car in an attempt to commit suicide. The girl survived the accident with only an ankle injury. Tragically, 30-year old mother of three, Nancy Salado-Mayo, whom 16-year old Louise Egan Brunstad plowed her car into, was killed. Salado-Mayo's 6-year old daughter suffered from fractured ribs and other minor injuries (http://www.cnn.com/2006/LAW/10/20/text.suicide.ap/index.html).

Brunstad, who attends Holy Innocents Episcopal School, told friends that she planned to kill herself because another female student refused to have sex with her. As she drove towards the other car, she sent counted down via text message to the girl who spurned her.

Miss Brunstad is facing felony murder and aggravated assault charges. The young lady's attorney, Drew Findling, had this to say: "This young lady and her parents are devastated by this horrible accident and by the death of Mrs. Salado-Mayo and the injuries of her daughter," Findling said. "They are praying for the quick and healthy recovery of her daughter and for the well-being of her husband and other children."

Suffice to say that Mr. Findling is not living in reality. This was no accident. It was a premeditated selfish act. No amount of public relations spin can change the facts in this case.

This bizarre, yet sad story leaves me with so many questions (none of which absolve this girl from responsibility for her actions)and very few answers. What life events precipitate such drastic, irrational behavior by this teenage girl? What kind of relationship does she have with her parents, particularly her parents (the lesbian love affair points to some obvious disfunction)? What does she believe about God and his desire to care for her in ways this classmate never could (her enrollment at an Episcopal school indicates some kind of religious background/knowledge)? How long did her friends know that she planned to attempt suicide and did they tell anyone? How can Mr. Findling sleep at night, attempting to call murder an accident?

Just another example of life in a world where men and women live without the fear and reality of consequences for one's actions, where people live without any regard for the well-being of others, where people live only for themselves, leading to the destruction of self, those who love them, and the stealing of innocence,and sometimes life, from random by-standers. Another reason to despise the consequences of sin on God's image-bearers and the countless ways that people seek satisfaction, joy and contentment by perverting God's gifts rather than turning to the Giver of life's gifts.

The Modern Smokescreen of Being a Member in Good Standing

Two years after I moved to Chattanooga I received an email from a former student at a church I served in Hoover, Alabama (www.gvbc.org). A student wanted me to fill out a recommendation on his behalf to serve as a counselor at a Christian camp in California (www.jhranch.com). This isn't an unusual request. I probably fill out recommendations, questionaires or write letters of commendation for individuals ten to fifteen times per year. Every time the request for information desired is rather auspicious, generally giving the prospective employer, professor or scholarship committee a rather vague notion of who the candidate is as a person.

But this particular request was actually quite invasive. JH Ranch wanted to know specific, detailed information about this student, imparticular, they wanted to know as much information as I was willing to divulge about this individual's Christian character and walk with Jesus. Perhaps you've never had to write a letter of recommendation or fill out an extensive questionaire about someone, but let me say up front that there is nasty temptation to put the candidate in the most positive light possible. It is possible to present a candidate who stands, not on the merits of his/her qualifications, but a candidate whose substance is literally a facade of smoke and mirrors. After all, do I really want to be the one responsible for keeping someone from employment or landing the scholarship that will secure entrance into their dream college?

JH Ranch wanted to know if I thought this individual had a genuine relationship with Jesus. They wanted to know if I thought this individual possessed godly character. They wanted to know what I knew about this individual's spiritual disciplines. In essence, they wanted to know how much I knew about this person's heart. So I did the only thing that was appropriate. I told them the truth. I told them that I had not really been around this person for the past two years while they were at college, so I didn't know much about their walk with Jesus. I told them that as this individual's student pastor, this individual was playful, encouraging and sincere, but they I didn't see real depth in their maturity or great desire in their pursuit of Jesus. They were faithful in attendance, but I did sometimes wonder how zealously they would pursue Jesus when they went away to college. Basically, I said enough that I was convinced, if JH Ranch was looking for a spiritually-minded person, they wouldn't hire this applicant and I would be the reason why.

I thought about this this weekend as I read the following in our church bulletin about how a person can become a member of our church: By letter. If you are a member in good standing of another Baptist church, you may transfer your letter of membership. Let me begin by qualifying this. I am not bashing allowing people to join our church or any other SBC church by letter. But I am left with a nagging question: What does it mean to be a member in good standing of another Baptist church?

Sadly, I am afraid it means very little. The Southern Baptist Convention claims more than 16.3 million members, and while 60% of SBC'ers claim to attend church weekly or almost weekly (surely that is an inflated statistic; http://www.namb.net/site/apps/nl/newsletter3.asp?c=9qKILUOzEpH&b=1594363&rsCount=21&recordcount=3&page=3), reports from our local SBC churches indicate that 30% of less of its membership role attend regularly. Take the church were I serve for example. We have a membership role of 1001 members, yet we consistently average about 350 attendees on a weekly basis. Assuming that 20-25 people attending on a given Sunday are visitors, this means that 32% of our membership role attends regularly. 676 of our "members" are unaccounted for on any given Sunday. Factor in our shut-ins who are unable to attend, and there are an estimated 600+ people who claim membership at Concord who are invisible week in and week out.

This makes me wonder: if one of the 600+ members gets the crazy notion to go back to church, but for whatever reason feels uncomfortable returning to the faith family they've basically abandoned for the past ____ years, and they visit a sister Southern Baptist church and decide to join, can they join as a member in good standing? Does it really mean so little in most SBC churches that you can be a member in good standing and rarely, if ever, attend the church where you are a member? And what does that really even mean? And would most pastors and leaders know how to articulate the criteria for meaningful membership? And doesn't all of this really reveal a crisis of epic proportions in our identity as baptistic Jesus followers?

I am thankful that, at Concord, we are taking positive steps to insure, as much as it depends on us, that incoming members are regenerate and intend to really engage and connect with other members at Concord for the sake of Jesus' kingdom here in East Brainerd. Every prospective member must participate in an interview with our Pastor before they can join. The purpsose of the interview is to discern whether or not an individual has a biblical understanding of the Gospel, tell them about Concord, and then help answer any questions about how this potential member "fits" into this faith family. This gives us an opportunity to learn a little bit about this indivdual's character and giftedness.

This is a serious process because once we become an individual's pastor, we bear the responsibility of "keeping watch over (their) souls, as those who will have to give an account" (Heb 13:17). Which leads me to my primary concern. When sister Baptist churches request a letter for membership by a current member (whether active or inactive), why do we grant letters with such lack of serious thought, evaluation and consideration? Why is it that when an inactive member leaves our church, we never take the time to inform their new church family that this individual hasn't been around and we have no way of giving any kind of accurate account for their current relationship with Jesus? Why is it that all it takes to be a member in good standing a most Baptist churches is a clean criminal record (in most cases) and an occasional appearance on Easter and Christmas?

Too often we treat membership, whether incoming or departing, like a letter of recommendation that is a mere formality to the process and isn't really intended to serve any meritorous purpose in their inclusion or exclusion for membership. This is tragic and has become a malignant cancer to the biblical health of our churches. And like all cancers, if you are serious about living, we can't neglect its growth. We must deal with it, and deal with it soon. We need to repent for not taking inclusion in the body of Christ more seriously. After all, when a person joins the local church, is that church doing anything less than affirming that they believe this person to be one of Jesus' sons and daughters? We also need to repent for not taking exclusion from Jesus' church more seriously. Make no mistake. We are at a crisis, and we cannot ignore it anymore, lest we lose the right to be taken seriously when we speak God's words in this world.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Family-Centered, Intergenerational, God-Exalting Worship

Though I am a graduate of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has become my seminary of choice. What would lead a graduate to betray his alma matter? It has to do with the the fact that SBTS has now confirmed that I am NOT crazy. For several years I have been thinking about the value of family-centered, intergenerational, God-exalting worship. This is a peculiar thought given that I am a youth pastor. The very nature of my calling and profession, in most cases, demands generational segregation. Everyone knows that you can't reach teenagers by having them hang out with senior adults (or so we are told)! Typically, when I tell both lay persons and fellow youth pastors that my approach to student ministry is different, I am greeted with raised eye-brows, furled brows, and once I explain how my philosophy of ministry is different, a general look of confusion.

SBTS is taking a new approach in equipping students for local church ministry by developing a family-centered vision for church ministry (http://www.towersonline.net/printer.php?grp=news&id=375). The goal is to "integrate local church ministries in a way that builds healthier families and churches".

Most local Western churches are blind to what has become increasingly obvious to me. Generational segregation leads to relational fragmentation and a skewed perspective on faith, the Church and the Kingdom of God. And in a world where generations are increasingly polarized in their values and worldviews, the Church is only contributing to the deconstruction of the family in the way we excessively promote gender and age segregated ministry.

This may not seem obvious at first, but the segregation of generations within the church often inadvertantly teaches individuals that the perspective, knowledge and experience one generation has regarding the God of Scripture is irrelevant, and in some extreme cases, inferior, to the life and faith experience of those in distant generations. Many mega-churches are becoming more and more isolated in the worship and education opportunities offered to church members, sequestering children to the children's worship wing, youth to the hip youth worship room, and adult members to the sanctuary. The intention, supposedly, is to expose these different generations to the same Gospel, but to do so in a language and environment more conducive and accessible to the particular target audience. The are two problems with this approach: 1) it can be argued that this approach is far from biblical; and 2) this consumeristic approach to ministry often undermines the health the future vitality of Jesus' Bride (the Church).

It is quite clear that Scripturally there is solid precedent for the inclusion of all ages in worship (and perhaps in other church gatherings as well, such as Sunday school, small groups, discipleship classes, choir, etc). When the Israelites celebrated Passover, they brought their children with them. Why? So that their children would ask, "What does this ceremony mean to you?" (Exodus 12:26; 13). The inquiry of the child leads to an opportunity to speak of their faith. I see this principle on almost a daily basis with my two-year old daughter Emeline. She is very inquisitive, always wanting to know why her Daddy and Mommy do the things that we do. Her childish questions provide many open doors for us to share why we value Jesus, prayer, biblical values and more. It is very clear from Psalm 78 that there is an important value on the older generation telling younger generations about the wondrous works and power of God so that "the next generation might know them (the commands of God), the children yet unborn" (78:6). In the New Testament we learn that Jesus went with his parents to worship. 1John 2:12-14, in John's instruction to the Church, we see a picture of intergenerational worship as the Apostle offers instruction to little children, fathers, young men, and children (and it is assumed that women were present as well). Finally, Jesus rebuked his disciples for their attempts to keep children from him as parents pushed their little ones into Jesus presence (Matt 19:13-15). In short, there is a place and purpose for children and youth in our corporate worship gatherings.

How does the neglect of cross-generational interaction and relationships impact the future health of the Church? For one, the psalmist declares (Ps 78) that without older generations telling the coming generation of the "glorious deeds of the LORD and his might, the wonders he has done" (78:4), that the children unborn will not know of God (78:6), and that the generation born may yet become "a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast" (78:8). Lack of intergenerational relational encounters leads to fewer conversions and potential apostasy. We understand this to be true experientially. Most confessing believers attribute the influence of an older person who loved Jesus with them coming to faith in Christ themselves.

I am sure that the hip, relevant mega-church with a gifted youth communicator and a packed audience of postmodern teenagers might object and say that a student worship service can, in fact, serve the purpose of speaking about God's glory and lead teenagers to confess Jesus, and in one sense, they would be right. You can have a completely segregated, student-targeted worship service running simulataneously with "big" church (where the adults go) on your multi-million dollar campus and see success in having students confess Jesus. But the question is: Will their faith endure? Will these students who are completley cut off from the overall life of the Church persevere in their faith? Will their confession prove to be genuine?

There are several reasons to believe that their faith will falter. Current research indicates that church-going, Jesus-confessing students are leaving the church at an alarming rate once they enter college. We have more youth pastors and more resources to reach young people than ever before, but yet we are seeing fewer and fewer conversions. A recent study by the United Church of Australia indicated that students who attended Sunday school or segregated worship services that ran simultaneously with regular worship services (i.e., they never attended the regular gathering of the whole church) were far less likely to attend church as an adult. Why? Because they were taught that unless worship caters specifically to their preferences and speaks their language, then it isn't important.

Furthermore, if a young person is never regularly exposed to the persevering, mature, godly faith of believers from older generations, where will their living examples of Christian faith come from? Who will encourage them when they are discouraged? Who will walk with them through valley's of darkness and suffering? Will they find any encouragement from believers who have not walked through the valley of cancer, miscarriage, divorce or unemployment? Believers within their generation who are steadfast in their walk with Jesus and have a wealth of experience and intimacy with God will be scarce; but they are often plentiful in the generations that have gone before us. Our children need these living saints to encourage, foster, protect and nurture the faith of younger generations. The more we segregate generations in the Church, the more brittle the faith of younger generations will become.

So I must conclude by saying "thank you" to SBTS and their efforts to educate young evangelicals about the need for family-based ministry in our churches. May God be pleased to bring about sweeping reform and transformation in His church here on American soil and abroad.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Buddha and Jesus: Homeboys

A recent article buried on foxsports.com caught my attention (http://www.benmaller.com/). During an exclusive golf outing for top business and entertainment executives, Tiger Woods was apparently ambushed (interesting choice of words) by an evangelical Christian.

A "Tee It Up With Tiger Woods" gathering at the Trump golf course in Los Angeles included a private lesson and lunch with Tiger. During the lunch there was a Q & A session where guests, who were invited by Nike, Inc., the company that signed Tiger to a multi-year contract worth an estimated $105 million dollars in 2001, were allowed to ask Woods questions. Most guests asked Woods the predictable questions about golf. However, one gentleman stood up and said, "Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior? And if not, prayerfully, would you?"

The reported indicates that the guests were mortified at the question and that "you could have heard a pin drop". Imagine the audacity of this man, asking Tiger Woods, arguably the best golfer of all-time, and who will likely become the first sports figure to ever earn over $1 billion dollars in career winnings and endorsements (in 9 years as a pro Woods has earned an estimated $547, 796, 176.00) whether or not he has a faith relationship with Jesus Christ.

Tiger responded publicly with impeccable cultural correctness. "My father was a Christian - of course Christianity was part of my life - but my mother is Asian and Buddhism was also part of my childhood, so I practice both faiths respectfully." So Buddha and Jesus are homeboys?

I am convicted by the boldness of the man who asked Tiger about his personal faith and spirituality. His status in Nike is shot. It is almost a certainty that he's guaranteed never to make the Nike guest list again. He did what I might may have thought about doing, but likely would have never done because I would have been too caught up in the hype of eating lunch with perhaps the greatest athlete of this generation. I wouldn't wanted to have risked offending Tiger. I admit I probably would have been posturing myself for a seat as close to Woods as I could, but it wouldn't (sadly) have been for the cause of Jesus that I wanted to be close to him. While I certainly believe a more effective evangelistic approach would be to befriend Tiger, build a credible relationship, and then look for less awkward opportunities to "ambush" Tiger with the good news about Jesus (what are the chances Tiger would want to be my friend, and thus afford me the opportunity? My golf game is atrocious), it's hard to be critical of this man's concern for Tiger's eternal destination.

And regarding Tiger's response, could you see the postmodern ooze dripping off his words? Anyone knowledgeable of the truth claims of the Christian faith realize that it is impossible to practice Christianity and any other faith respectfully (at least not in the eyes of the God each faith claim worships). The God of the Old and New Testament, the Maker of heaven and earth, the One who holds all things in His hand and has numbered the hairs on Tiger's head, the number of golf championships he will win, and the number of days he will breath, will not share His glory with another (Isa. 48:11).

I hope Tiger thinks about this man's question. Can you imagine a four-some of Jesus, Tiger, me and anyone else on the other side of eternity? But tragically, unless someone who cares enough about Tiger to risk the offense of the Gospel, he will likely continue to believe that he can practice both Christianity and Buddhism respectfully in honor of his parents. And if that is the case, unlike Tiger's dominance on the most difficult golf courses in the world, that's a course that Tiger will never be able to successfully conquer.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Television, Children, Parenting and Autism

As the father of a 2 1/2 year old (Emeline) who loves to watch videos (particularly Dora the Explorer), I found this latest post by Al Mohler very interesting (http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=792) concering a study at Cornell University that reports a "statistically significant relationship" between autism and television viewing. One of the reasons I found it so compelling is because of the response of my 3-month old daughter (Cameron) to the visual stimuli of television. Whenever we place her on her blanket on the floor when Emeline is watching a video, we never place Cameron facing the televison because we try to limit the exposure our girls have to television. But recently she has developed the ability to roll over from her back to her stomach, and she literally will rotate and position herself to see the television when it is on. This is an important observation for me because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no child under 2 watch any television, and yet my 3-month old is literally cranning her neck to see it!

Television is a powerful medium that has the ability to render the average intelligent adult into a passive, unresponsive vegetable, and apparently effectively captivates the young minds of infants as well (as we are learning). Unfortunately, for many care-givers, television has become a primary means of adbicating one's responsibility to interact and nuture our children. Parenting is exhausting. It is hard work, and as young parents, Emily and I see how easy it is just to throw in a video and let the television take care of Emeline for awhile. I resonate with the temptation to put your kid in front of the television for a few moments of quiet rest and relaxation. In our fatigue, and what can only often be called nurturing neglect of our children, we may be stifling their full potential.

What parents often fail to take into consideration is the impact of the medium of television on children. Let's be frank, as most women can attest to this based on experience with the men in their lives, television is a major distraction in our lives. Several years ago I remember visiting a couple in their home. The wife wasn't home and I was trying to engage the husband in conversation. He had invited me into the living room to talk, but he left the television on. The gentleman could barely even make eye-contact during our conversation. He kept sneaking away peeks at the tv screen and often drifted into barely audible responses to my questions, and at times it was quite obvious that he hadn't even really heard what I had asked him. I have a friend that when we go to lunch, I never let him face the television because if I do, conversation is shot.

We see the crippling effects of the medium of television in our adult lives, and yet we remain unmoved in protecting our children from the potentially negative impact of television, particularly excessive television viewing. Try talking to a child watching television and see what kind of response you get. You will be fortunate to get any kind of response. Studies show that television does not encourage the development of our children's imagination. It is a passive rather than active in its engagement. It shortens the attention span (and we wonder why so many children are now diagnosed as ADD). Some researchers, as Mohler's post points out, suggest that viewing television can affect "the cognitive and neurological development of the child." And now this study from Cornell University suggests that there may be a link between autism and television viewing. Shouldn't this cause parents to be a little more discerning in the viewing habits for their children?

Maybe this latest study will cause parents to re-evaluate the viewing habits of their children.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Blowin' a Gasket

I'm not really into debating. I like a good discussion as much as the next guy, but as far as the public forum of debate is concerned, I'd rather watch someone field dress a deer in sub-zero temperatures. For the two people that read this blog (thanks, Mom!), I doubt any of you know: 1) who this guy above is; 2) why I'm blogging about him again ( my first post was about him).

This is Ergun Caner. Caner is a converted Muslim and has been very helpful and insightful in opening up the world of Islam to Western Christians. Caner is also the President of Liberty Theological Seminary. He is a passionate evangelist and scholar. He also happens to be stubbornly hostile towards the doctrines of grace (Calvinism, Reformed Theology).

On Monday October 16, Dr. Caner and Dr. James White were supposed to debate the doctrine of Calvinism on the campus of Liberty University. The debate got cancelled and the circumstances surrounding the cancellation are in question. Now there is a whole lot of finger-pointing and unsubstantiated allegations taking place between the White camp and the Caner camp (http://www.aomin.org/index.php?itemid=1580; http://www.erguncaner.com/site/?p=138). If these two parties can't even have a civil conversation before the debate took place, I can only imagine the potential injury to the witness of the Church had this debate happened at all. I am thankful that God's providence didn't see fit to see this circus unfold for a watching world to witness.

The reason for this post is in response to something Caner said on his website (link listed above) where he states that Calvinists are worse that Muslims. Here is his response:

A: Yes, absolutely. For a small portion of these people, just daring to question the Bezian movement is heresy. They will blog and e-mail incessantly. I call it a “Calvinist Jihad,” because just like Muslims, they believe they are defending the honor of their view. They can discuss nothing else. I have even had a few call for my head! Dr. Falwell and I have laughed about it, because they are so insistent, and they miss the point completely. There are plenty of schools to which the neo-Calvinists can go, but Liberty will be a lighthouse for missions and evangelism to the “whosoever wills.” Period.
The difference is, Muslims know when to quit - for these guys it is the only topic abou which they can talk.

To be fair to Caner, his comparison could be that Calvinists are as ardent as the normal devoted street Muslim in defending the honor of their view. However, by employing the term "Calvinist Jihad"in his description, Caner seems to be implying that Calvinists are more like radical Islamic extremists than your run-of-the-mill Muslim. As far as I can tell, moderate Muslims haven't declared jihad (holy war) on anyone, although you will see many of them fill the streets in protest of anything, particulary that originates in the West, that is an offense to Islam or the beloved prophet Muhammed.

Again, in fairness, Caner tries to qualify his statement by stating that "a small portion of these people" - as if Calvinists are some kind of mutant breed of Christians - are Calvinist jihadists. Yet, the question was not qualified in stating that Caner equates a small percentage of Calvinists as worse than Muslims. Caner's response to the question, without sufficient qualification, indicates that he believes all (the irony here is that "all", if you press Caner, may not mean "all", and "all" is always a contended word in the debate over predestination and election)Calvinists are worse than Islamic extremists who orchestrate suicide bombings, murder Christians around the world, and suppress religious freedom. Why are Calvinists worse? Caner says it is because these Calvinists don't know when to stop in defending what they believe to be a biblical soteriology (notice I said biblical, not necessarily Baptist), whereas Islamic radical extremists do know when to stop once they get their point across (I imagine that hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq would beg to differ and would take the ardent, pushy Calvinist any day over the misguided Muslim with a bomb strapped to his chest).

As if comparing Calvinists to radical Muslims is not offensive enough, Caner then continues by implying that Calvinists do not have a heart for missions, evangelism and deny that "whosoever will" can enter into God's Kingdom by faith in Jesus. This is an unadulterated statement of ignorance that blatantly misrepresents the vast majority of Calvinists in our Southern Baptist churches (which Lifeway now tells us makes up only about 10% of leadership in SBC churches). To make such an assertion is irresponsible and injurious to Jesus' Bride.

Finally, what grieves me most about this post by Caner, as well as his tone as I have listened to him berate and attack Calvinism openly on stage, is that Caner often violates Paul's instruction to Timothy about the Lord's servant in the way that he chooses to speak, address his critics, and teach the students God has put under his ministry. "...the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness" (2Tim 2:24-25a).

As best I can tell, without knowing the motives of this man's heart, Caner often appears quarrelsome, rarely kind to Calvinists (what he calls Neo-Calvinists), and lacking tact and gentleness in his critique of Calvinism and those who hold to its teachings.

The world does not need to see the Church tearing Her own apart. Caner would be wise to listen more than he speaks, and when he does speak, heed Paul's counsel to Timothy as he engages those who do not see the issues of predestination and election the way that he does in Scripture.

John Piper: The Supremacy of Christ and Joy in the Postmodern World

"But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves" (John 17:13). This is my last post on the Desiring God National Conference. Some of you will notice that one message will go without comment (D.A. Carson), and this is simply because Carson's exposition of John 17 was so brilliant, so complex, and so overwhelming that I still have yet to be able to complete digest all that was said.

John Piper's topic was the issue of Jesus and joy in the postmodern world. If you know anything about Piper it should come as no surprise that the most public Christian hedonist in the world would talk about the issue of joy in God in a postmodern society. It was beautiful to see how God weaved this message together with D.A. Caron's, with Piper's presentation coming the morning following Carson's thorough handling of John 17.

One of the primary presuppostions from Carson's message was that Jesus found joy (pleasure) in doing the will of the Father. Jesus' obedience is sustained by the joy of His relationship with the Father, but His obedience is not equal to the joy. In other words, His joy is the primary motivating factor for His submission and deference to the will of God the Father. His obedience is evidence of His joy.

According to John 17:13, Jesus' joy is conveyed by Spirit-illumined, Spirit-ignited propositions. Jesus shares propositional truths about the Father ("...these things I speak in the world..."). What precisely does this have to do with the postmodern world and mind? By Jesus' own admission, joy is doctrinally based if it is going to glorify Christ. This is particularly important because many in the postmodern world and postmodern church find doctrine divisive and counter-productive to "friendship" and "conversation" (key buzz words in the postmodern, emergent church/village world). There is often a suppression of propostional truths because, according to the postmodern worldview, one can not know anything with certainty, and no "truth" is without cultural bias and shaping, and therefore cannot be said to be applicable to all people, in all cultures, at all points in history.

For Jesus, joy is critically connected to propositional truths about the Father. The consequence of living in a world of beliefs about God not rooted in propositional truths is that our joy in God is at stake.

To this point, what you have read is the short-version, the Cliff Notes version of Piper's message. Here you will find an expansive 10-point commentary on John 17:13.

  1. God is the only being who has no beginning, and therefore, all things are dependent on Him for existence, and therefore, are less valuable than God. Neither of these truths is accepted in the postmodern world (Isa. 40:15-17). Our deepest joys are fulfilled in admiring the superiority of others. This is why our culture is obsessed with celebrities, athletic acccomplishments and the like. Until man grasps that he is inferior to God, and that God has made us children of God according to His own purpose and pleasure, and not because God values us above all things, including the value He places on His own glory, we will not treasure God as we ought;
  2. From eternity God has been supremely joyful and satisfied in the Triune relationship. There is no deficiency in the Trinity that prompted him to create the world (Ps 50:12-15). People have been made out of God's fullness, not out of His need;
  3. God created humans in His image to be known and enjoyed to display the supreme value of His glory, His manifold perfections (Isa. 43:6-7; Ps 96:3; Col 1:27). The reaches of God's glory are not outside our finite minds (though postmodernists state they are). Though it is true that we cannot know God's glory or perfections perfectly, Scripture clearly indicates that we can apprehend God's glory with our minds and this is the means of joy in our hearts. In other words, knowledge of God fuels the affection for God in our hearts;
  4. Jesus absorbed God's warth and rose from the dead so that all who believe in Him would be forgiven, counted righteous, and fitted to know and enjoy God forever. In the mind of the postmodern there is no room for God's wrath, which means there is no place for a wrath-bearing Savior, which means there is no place for the Gospel. The wrath of God is the necessary obstacle to the goal of the Gospel - which is to bring sinners to God (1Pet 3:8);
  5. The enjoyment above God above all other things is the deepest way God's glory is reflected back to Him. Joy in God is the apex. Joy in God is intended to be at the center of all affections in life, above family, pleasure and leisure. We don't enjoy God so that we gain anything else. It is the nature of joy to be a spontaneous response to something we value. Our joy reveals what we value. It is unique in its capacity to witness to what we treasure;
  6. The enjoyment of God in Jesus is the spring of all visible acts of self-denying, sacrificial love that displays to others the worth of God in our lives. God wants His glory to be visible to others (2Cor 8:1-2). God's joy may be hidden in our hearts, but He wants it to be known by others (Matt 5:11-12, 14-16). If we can't rejoice in the world's revilings about us, then people can't see our joy in God;
  7. The only joy that reflects the glory of God is rooted in true knowledge of God (as well as experience; these are not two mutually exclusive ways of knowing God). The only God-glorifying knowledge that flows form what we don't know about God rises from what we do know. This is a response to the postmodern rejection of propositional truth. Knowledge is imparted through language, and God reveals Himself to us by His word(s). Far too many postmodern confessing believers say that their joy is in the journey toward knowing God. However, all this does is make an idol out of the journey. Jesus is honored by us knowing and treasuring who He is, not who we aren't sure He is or isn't. Truly, what we know now is small in comparison to what we will know in eternity. This is the mystery, although most postmoderns believe the mystery is what we don't know about God. This isn't true. The mystery is that there is infinitely more to be revealed about God to His sons and daughters through all eternity (Eph 2:7), not that there are things we do not currently know about God;
  8. The right knowledge of God as revealed by Jesus in Scripture is the servant of God-glorifying joy in God and love for people. The leadership at the Emergent Village, the poster-organization for postmodern Christians, says, "We believe in God, beauty, future and hope...We don't have a problem with faith, but rather, we have a problem with statements. Statements of faith stifle friendships..." Piper posed this question to the Emergents: A) Are there any statements that if your friend really believed them, they would destroy your friend? Wouldn't denying them in his presence sustain, not stifle your friendship?; B) C.S. Lewis said, "Friendship is not face-to-face, but shoulder-to-shoulder - with common interests. The greater the shared vision of God, the deeper the friendship." Lewis (and the Bible) would say that Emergents cannot have this kind of deep friendship because their friendship is not based on propositional truth. The Emergent ethos uproots friendship from biblical doctrine;
  9. We must not marginalize or minimize healthy biblical doctrine about the nature and work of God in Christ. Biblical doctrine is the basis of deep, biblical friendships;
  10. The Church must become a pillar and buttress of truth, love and the display of the glory of God and supremacy of Jesus in all things, the very reason for one's existence.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Mark Driscoll: The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World

Mark Driscoll (pictured here, or is it actually a picture of me?) presented a humorous and compelling message on the issues that are critical for Jesus' church to hold onto steadfastly, and those issues that Jesus' church must remain flexible and open to in regards to culture for the sake of introducing people to Jesus and, through the Word, seeing them birthed into His Kingdom.

Driscoll began his message by reminding us all that Jesus remains "hot" in pop-culture (I must confess that I was disappointed to hear Driscoll quote the ever-relevant eye-candy queen Paris Hilton when talking about Jesus. For those of you who live in a perpetual pop-culture dark cave, Miss Hilton is infamous for declaring all things "hot"). Driscoll humored us with numerous examples of how Jesus remains an icon in secular culture. Examples of this: celebrities such as Ben Affleck wearing "Jesus is my homeboy" t-shirts, Kanye West's infatuation with Jesus and declaration that if he could be anyone (other than Kanye West, and if you know Kanye West you know it is a big deal for this ego-maniac to declare high praise for anyone but himself), he would be Jesus, and Talledega Nights Ricky Bobby's (played by Will Ferrell) eagerness to pray to the 8lb 6oz baby Jesus in a golden diaper who gave him his hot wife. All of these pop-culture references point to the reality that Jesus isn't taboo in the postmodern world.

Driscoll sees two preeminent issues facing the Church: Christology (Jesus) and Missiology (cultural engagement/evangelism). What truths must we cling to regarding Jesus and how should we communicate Jesus to the world?

There are really two emerging, extreme streams of thought percolating in the world regarding Jesus. The first is an emphasis on the incarnation of Jesus. This is the popular view of Jesus in the Emergent Village movement (www.emergentvillage.com). The accent here is placed upon the humanity of Jesus. His imminence and presence among us, becoming like us to reach us, is fueling the conversation about Christ and culture today. However, a view of Jesus that focuses predominantly or even exclusively on His incarnation is incomplete.

This leads us to the second emphasis, which is on the exaltation of Jesus. This is the emphasis of the New Calvinists (referencing the recent Christianity Today article; check the archives for this article). The emphasis here is on the glory of Jesus. The accent here is on a biblical theology that paints a majestic picture of Jesus and His power, rule and reign over the earth. One extreme (focus predominantly on the incarnation) paints a picture of Jesus as a humble peasant in a dress who is concerned primarily with mingling with and healing sinners, who we can identify with because he is human and suffered, while the other extreme (focus predominantly on the exaltation of Jesus) focuses on Jesus with a sword who is coming back to destroy His enemies and who has the right to do whatever pleases him.

Driscoll believes (and I think he is right) that what is lacking in most Western churches is a merging of the incarnation and exaltation of Jesus in the world. The Church is not effectively engaging the world with Jesus who is an example of humility and suffering, who we can identify with, who took on flesh, becoming likes us with the intent of redeeming His children, and an exalted Jessu of power and authority. This is a biblical Christology.

Now, our Christology (beliefs about Jesus) are intended to inform and shape the way that we interact with and engage the world for the sake of bringing the Gospel to all tribes, tongues and nations. In our missiology (the way we engage culture), we must begin by contending for the exalation of Jesus. In other words, what are the beliefs that we will fight for to the death? What are the things that we believe about Jesus and the Gospel that we hold in the closed hand that are non-negotiable (what is troubling about the Emerging Church is that so much of what we believe to be true about Jesus is, in fact, negotiable to these new kind of Christians. There is so much negotiation one is left to wonder if those whose versions of truth are so unstable are indeed Christians in the biblical sense of the word)?

Driscoll believes there are nine truths (at least) that we must contend for to keep a biblical view of Jesus:
  1. Inerrancy/Authority of the Bible. This however, is more than contending for a system of beliefs. It is the fight to preserve the truth that Scripture is a metanarrative for all people over all times. We must teach the big story of the Bible and plug the little stories and systematics of the Bible into the larger redemptive narrative.
  2. Sovereignty of God must be defended against open-theism. Open-theists believe, generally, that God cannot know for certainty the future free choices of men. The future is, in fact, open, and thus, God is constantly reacting to how events unfold. He is not sovereign over the future because future events are not fixed. This is a discomforting, but increasingly popular heresy.
  3. The virgin birth of Jesus. Rob Bell, a popular pastor in Michigan whose video series have become a hot commodity at Lifeway Christian Stores, recently wondered out loud in his latest book Velvet Elvis if it would matter if we lost the virgin birth of Jesus (to which Driscoll humorously replied, "Uh...yeah, you'd lose Jesus."). While Bell claims to belief in the virgin birth, it is troubling he would even open the possibility that belief in the virgin birth of Jesus isn't fundamental to Christian faith.
  4. Argue against pelagianism (denial of sin and evil). In our culture sin is no longer a personal issue. As Keller pointed out in a previous post, there is a guilt problem among postmodern people. Christians assume that people feel guilty about their sin. We assume they are troubled that they are sinners, when in actuality, many people experience no guilt for their sinful lifestyle. I've found this to be interesting as I've watched several episodes of The Way of the Master with Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. As they interview people and share the Gospel, it is amazing how often people express no remorse, no trouble over the fact that they have been exposed as a lying, cheating, adulterous individual. We must contend for the fact that humanity is sinful and that we are sinners.
  5. Contend for penal substitutionary atonement. By faith in Jesus we have been saved from God's wrath. This is a doctrine that is under heavy fire from within and outside the Church. Some have even said that this doctrine is a form of "cosmic child abuse". And yet, the truth that Jesus' death has placated the wrath of God for those sinners who confess Jesus is the only hope we have to escape God's righteous judgment for our sin.
  6. Contend for the exclusivity of Jesus. Jesus Himself declared that He was the only way that sinful man could be reconciled with God. Either this is true or Jesus is a mentally deranged liar.
  7. Gender. Driscoll did not elaborate much here but we must contend for gender roles in society. We must teach and preach what Scripture says about the difference and sameness of male and female.
  8. Contend for the doctrine of hell. Some say, when talking to people about God, "People don't like hell." Driscoll's response, "You're not supposed to. That's the point!" Scripture teaches that there is a literal, eternal, place of judgment consumed by fire and darkness. Jesus talked about Hell more than He talked about heaven.
  9. God's Kingdom is priority over culture. Among many emerging "Christian" thinkers what we are seeing is an over-realized eschatology. There is much talk about the Kingdom that is "now". There is a postmodern addiction to the present. There is far too much emphasis on the redemption of the present culture. There is a broader perpective than the "now" because the Kingdom is also "not yet".

Not only should we contend for these truths and hold them in the closed hand, but we must also have an open hand that contextualizes the Gospel, becoming all things to all people, in hopes of reaching some. The goal is to communicate sound doctrine to various cultures and subcultures (1Cor 9). Jesus functioned as a missionary in His incarnation and the Church must be missiological in its orientation.

Driscoll asks the question: "Is this dangerous?" To understand this question you must realize how much criticism MD receives regularly for his approach to ministry and the practices of his church. MD's presentation of the Gospel and vision for the Church definately tetters on the edge of Christian decency and acceptance. There are many ways that his church (www.marshillchurch.org) are attempting to contextualize the Gospel in Seattle that would come under heavy criticism here in the South. MD tells us that contextualizing the Gospel will require faith. There is risk involved. He sees ministry as two hands. In one hand we put timeless truth (closed hand); in the open hand, timely ministry (open hand). Being anchored to the truth allows for creativity. It makes the Gospel - not relative - but relevant.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Tim Keller: The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World

Tim Keller is the pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City (www.redeemer.com). He poses an uncanny, winsome ability to articulate the Gospel. More than this, he consistently keeps the Gospel and our need of the Gospel in the spotlight in all of life. He coined the increasingly familiar phrase: "The Gospel is not the ABC's of the Christian life, it is the A to Z of the Christian life."

His topic, The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World, was, for me, the most helpful of all the messages at the DG Conference, precisely because it dealt with the issue of communicating the Gospel in a postmodern world. Keller submits that the postmodern world presents a crisis regarding evangelism because the old forms and evangelical strategies are no longer very effective in leading people to faith in Jesus. This is disconcerting for many evangelical churches because, if there isn't a program in place to "do" evangelism, or if there isn't a script that leads people to a place of response, then many are left without any real ability to reach people because they don't know any other way to reach them than through a program, or as Keller calls it, a "magic bullet".

Keller used two texts during this talk (it wasn't really a sermon, but that doesn't mean it wasn't convicting). He began by referencing Mark 9:28-29 where Jesus' disciples are trying to cast out a demon and fail. When Jesus comes to them he tells them that they failed to cast out the demon because "this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer." Keller mentions that he gained new insight into this passage from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who submits that Jesus means that the "demon is in too deep", and this is why the disciples could not cast it out and it can only be effectively cast out through prayer. Keller likened the disciples to the church and the demon-possessed boy to the contemporary world. The spirit of this age (postmodern) is not like past ages. One of the primary differences, notes not only Lloyd-Jones but also Leslie Newbigin (former missionary to India), is that Western culture is not only a mission field, but an ex-Christian mission field. Western culture, in a very real sense, is inocculated to Christianity. It has a former, though highly distorted, view of Christianity. Jones' point: what once worked - campaigns, revival services, programs, scripted presentations, street preaching, etc - will not work anymore (at least not on a widespread scale).

Flannery O'Conner gave this relevant description of the ex-Christian Western culture of our day. We are a "Christ-haunted" people, meaning there are those, perhaps many, who have a vanishing memory of the Gospel. In our world there are residual pockets of society where the old methods of evangelism and engaging the culture still work (primarily in the South). But these pockets are shrinking. The Church is losing traction in the postmodern world. Magic bullets will not work. The demon is in too deep. The Church needs a transformation of personality and community.

When dealing with the postmodern mind we are faced with three problems:
  1. The truth problem: truth is relative
  2. The guilt problem: most Gospel presentation assume a consciousness of guilt. This consciousness rarely exists in the postmodern mind.
  3. The meaning problem: meanings are unstable in the postmodern world.

Knowing this, knowing that the demon is in too deep, how do we do evangelism in the postmodern world?

  1. Gospel Theologizing (Jonah 1:1-2): Go and preach. All theology must be nothing less than an exposition of the Gospel. Human language (imperfect as it is) is the vehicle (with the help of the Holy Spirit) for us moving into relationship with God. But we must share more than systematic theology. We must tell the story of the Gospel (creation, fall, redemption, restoration).
  2. Gospel Realizing (Jonah 2:9): "Salvation is of the LORD". Realize the wonder of the Gospel. If people are saved by works, man still has a degree of control. But if salvation is by grace, there is nothing God cannot ask of you.
  3. Gospel Urbanization (Jonah 4:11): How can you not love such a mass of people? Cities are strategic. If cities are secular, where will the culture eventually go? The Church must have a more visible presence in our cities.
  4. Gospel Communication (Jonah 3:4-6): There are four stages of communicating the Gospel: a) Intelligibility (does it make sense, as much as it can to a spiritually dead person); b) credibility (presuppostional apologetics means to defeat the defeaters on their own terms); c) plausibility (contextualization of the Gospel); d) intimacy (relationship)
  5. Gospel Formation (Jonah returns to Ninevah a second time in weakness): The Gospel is most effective when Christ is formed and displayed in our weakness. How does one know he/she has really met God asked Lloyd Jones when considering Jacob's wrestling match with God? He limps. Our culture must see the greatness of God displayed in the weakness of His people.
  6. Gospel Incarnation (Jonah 1:5-6): When Jonah is asleep on the bottom of the boat during the storm, the sailors come and rebuke him for not seeking their deliverance in His God. This is an example of the world rebuking the Church. The world, on some level, is pleading with the Church to use our private religion for some public good. In essence, they are saying, when we fail to work for their good, "You don't care about us!". The Church wants to confront the world without loving the world. Does our community know we love them?

Where does all of this lead us? We need the wonder of the Gospel in our hearts coming by prayer.

Voddie Baucham: The Supremacy of Christ and Truth in a Postmodern World

Voddie Baucham is a big, passionate man. It's inspiring and moving to watch him preach about Jesus and the Gospel with such passion and conviction. I thought Baucham had, by far, the most challenging topic as it relates to the postmodern world. He was charged with the task of speaking about truth in the postmodern world. Truth is tenuous in postmodern epistomology, so trying to talk about how to engage postmodern people with the absolute, authoritative, universally applicable truth of Scripture is a little like building a sturdy house of cards. It can be done, but only with the greatest care and attention.

Baucham began his message with this thought: If there is an issue, and if there is conflict between Jesus Christ and postmodernity, since Jesus is supreme over all things, then Jesus is the victor. This is, I believe, an important foundational statement. The temptation, because of man's infatuation and over-hyped confidence in human reason, is to put Jesus on trial, not postmodern thought. Human secularism is quick to deconstruct the historical man/God Jesus Christ, but slow to recognize the flawed ideology of postmodern thought patterns and truth claims. But Jesus is supreme over all things, including human reason, and for this reason, Jesus wins everyday and twice on Sunday.

Baucham gave a solid apologetic for how to engage postmodern people with Jesus' claims. He broadly defined postmodernism as a new spin on secular humanism. People, for all ages, have asked basically four questions about life: 1) Who am I?; 2) Why am I here?; 3) What is wrong with the world?; 4) How can what is wrong be made right?

How does the secular humanist answer these questions?
  1. Who am I? You are nothing. You are a random, evolutionary beast. There is no over-arching purpose to your life and existance.
  2. Why am I here? You are here to consume and find pleasure in anything you can. "Enjoy all you can, can all you get, and sit on the can." A tragic consequence of this is that if you have no purpose and you only exist to consume and enjoy, all that matters is that you are more powerful than anyone who stands in the way of what you desire to enjoy.
  3. What is wrong with the world? Secular humanism says that two things are wrong with the world: a) insufficient education; b) insufficient government.
  4. How can what is wrong be made right? People need to know more and be told what to do, then the world will be a better place.

These are empty answers.

Baucham then gave a biblical apologetic to these same basic questions from Colossians 1:15-23.

  1. Who am I? (Col 1:15-16) We don't know who we are until we know who Christ is. "All things were created by Him and for Him..." Man is the crowning glory of the creation of God (Gen 1:26-27). Christian theism has no classification for racism, classcism, and eugenics (euthanasia and abortion). **This was a particulary meaningful part of Baucham's message (regarding euthanasia and abortion) as we were reminded that the circumstances of one's existence do not change the value God places on one's life.
  2. Why am I here? (Col 1:16-18) We are here to bring glory and honor to Jesus, not simply to consume and enjoy.
  3. What is wrong with the world? (Col 1:19-21) You. And Me. "...hostile in mind, doing evil deeds..." When people ask why a good God allows evil they miss the point. They think the problem is "out there" instead of dealing with the real problem, the hostility and evil of all men towards God and one another. The problem with postmodern epistomology is that it begins with man at the center, not the supremacy of Jesus.
  4. How can what is wrong be made right? (Col 1:22-23) The answer is Jesus and faith. We desperately need a Savior. We need the substitutionary atonement and redemptive work of Jesus' bloody, broken body on the cross, raised to life in power three days later, who now sits on the throne at the right hand of God the Father, awaiting word to return in glory, destroy His enemies, and reign as King for all ages.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

David Wells: The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World

David Wells' book Above All Earthly Powers was the driving force behind the conferene theme. Wells is a brilliant scholar and has an insightful, provocative knowledge of western culture. His message on the opening night of the conference was tremendously effective in setting the stage for the overall theme of the conference. Wells is a professor of historical and systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and an ordained Congregational minister.

Highlights from his message:

Interesting facts and figures...
In 1793 (when William Carey sailed for India to preach Christ), 98% of Protestants lived in the West. At the turn of the 20th century, 90% of Protestants lived in the West. However,
today Christianity is moving south into Central and South America and East into Asia. There
are probably more Christians in China today than the West. The point is this: today there is
more Christian believing taking place outside the West than inside the West. This is evidence
Western culture has become a 21st century mission field.

In the United States, 45% of people claim to be born again. However, only 9% have any
concept about what that means and can explain their claim biblically.

The main question Wells' sermon asked and answered...
Since Western culture is cleary rooted in Judeo-Christian values, and since Western culture
was once populated only 110 years ago with 90% of Protestant believers, why are people
leaving what is unique and glorious, namely Jesus Christ?

The main texts for the message were Heb 2:8-9, 10:12-13, and a broad reference to chapter
11. In the book of Hebrews, the audience had converted to faith in Jesus from their historical
Jewish roots. As they were beginning to face Roman opposition and persecution, many were
tempted to abandon their confession of faith in Jesus. Like the Israelites at Kadesh (Psalm
95; Heb 3-4), they were struggling to see that God would be sufficient for the challenges they
were facing. Faced with opposition in their world for their faith, they were forced to confront
their unbelief, which is precisely the reason Israel failed to receive what was promised at
Kadesh. So why do people draw back? It is always a matter of faith.

In the West we do not fear for our safety because of our faith in Jesus. However, we are
distracted by many things, and thus we find it difficult, often impossible, to maintain
unwavering focus on Jesus. Along with the benefits and comfort of living in the West, where
we have seemingly limitless opportunities and abundance, come costs and shadows.

If you go to Africa the most pressing needs are physical. People are hungry. They lack
sanitary living conditions and shelter. But in the West the challenge of faith is much more
psychological. Competing worldviews, lifestyles and religions make faith in Jesus hard to
sustain. There is an intrusiveness about Western values and culture that color our innermost
workings. We are preoccupied with how to survive in this world. How do we secure
promotion at work? Are we saving enough for college and retirement? Am I educated enough
to earn sufficient income? How do I maximize the pleasures of life for the enjoyment of my
family? There are many things assaulting our souls in the West that compress society. This
compressed, busy society of technology, hedonism, materialism and communication clamor
for our affections and focus.

This is precisely what people bring into Christian worship in the West. This is why people
seek such "practical" ministry, settle for being entertained, and are enamored with easy-
believism and self-help psychology in our pulpits. Tragically, the benefits of the "practical"
ministries we offer people in the Western church are lost without the supremacy and
centrality of Jesus (which is precisely the point of the book of Hebrews).

The texts (Heb 2:8-9; 10:11-13)...
There is a two-sidednes to life. Reality is that we do not have the world outside or inside of us
in control. What we do have is Jesus. Post-fall the world is off-track. The world is in chaos and
humanity lives in rebellion and treason against God's authority. But in Christ God is putting
creation and us back on track (the cosmic implications of the Gospel). The priesthood of Jesus
is superior because His work is finished on the cross (which is why He is seated) and soon His
enemies will become Jesus' footstool.

The point is this: though there seems to be great uncertainty in this world, the outcome of
what will eventually transpire in this world is no longer in doubt because of Jesus. His priestly
work is His sovereign triumph over all enemies. The uncertainties and tragedies of this world
are the last futile moves of the enemy; but the outcome is not in doubt.

Implications for a Postmodern World...
  1. Christianity is only about a supreme, sovereign Christ. He is unique, central, indispensable and supreme. This is all we have to offer the world. The questions aren't about Jesus; they are only about how we help people see this kind of glorious Christ.
  2. We live in a period of "already...not yet". We are redeemed in full but know ourselves to be not yet fully perfected (2Cor 4:16-18). This should help us make sense of things in life that confront our faith and may tempt us to waver in unbelief.
  3. It is God's pleasure that His Son be acknowledged now - at this appointed time in history - for who He is. How faithful is the church in proclaiming the Jesus of the bible?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Reflections from Minneapolis

Over the next several days I plan to spend some time highlighting some lessons learned during my time at the Desiring God National Conference in Minnesota. I will begin today by just sharing some general comments, and over the course of the next several days will interact with some treasures mined from the depths of God's Word from the powerful preaching and exposition of Timothy Keller, D.A. Carson, David Wells, and John Piper. My thoughts and experiences are certainly not comprehensive enough to give one a full picture of the blessing of this conference, but I hope my feable attempt to draw you in will encourage you in some way as well. Let me also commend Joshua Harris' thoughts (http://joshharrisblogson.blogspot.com/2006/10/desiring-god-2006-day-two.html), pastor of Covenant Life Church, about the conference.

The weather in Minneapolis was beautiful. Such a gift from God that He would give us an electric blue sky and gentle breeze as the setting for our encounter with Him. I went to the conference with two good friends, both former students during my ministry in Birmingham, Alabama. It was good to be away with them and think critically and objectively about our culture, doctrine and the current state of the church. My only sadness is in the fact that I was the old guy in the group, and therefore had no wise sage by which to lean on and bounce my impressions or insights about Jesus, culture and how the church should appropriately engage culture.

One thing that stood out to me about my few days in Minneapolis was the number of Muslims I encountered. On Saturday night of the conference there was also a gathering (which I believe was a wedding) at the convention center. There must have been over 1000 Muslims gathered only meters from 3000 Christians. What irony, that we would be gathering to worship the supremacy of Jesus Christ will surrounded by Muslims who accept that Jesus was messiah but not God! But I was struck by the fact that it appeared that the majority, if not all of the conference attendees, myself included, walked past these Muslims without any attempt to engage them in a meaningful conversation about Jesus.

Providentially, we did have the opportunity to talk about Jesus to our cab driver, Tareq, who also was Muslim. He was quite inquisitive about the beliefs of Baptists and was well-versed on Catholicism and Protestantism (in a broad scale). He was obviously quite intelligent and it did not take long to realize that Tareq intentions, while perhaps not to convert us, was to bring us to a place of acceptance and tolerance of Islam. He talked at length about his respect and acceptance of Jesus as messiah, though he was clear that he did not believe he was God. I would have liked to have talked to Tareq more but he was working and we never saw him again.

I experienced a strange sensation in my conversation with Tareq. When he told us that he was Muslim, I felt something in my inner being. I don't believe it was fear. But it was a clear realization that here was a person who lives as an enemy of Jesus. I find it odd, though, that I don't often think this way about Westerner's who live lives of rebellion and hostility towards the gospel of Jesus. So perhaps it was, in an unconcious way, the spirit of fear in turmoil within me as I thought about what less accepting men than Tareq would do to harm me as a follower of Jesus if I had met him on the streets of Saudia Arabia rather than the streets of Minneapolis.

The conference itself was absolutely fantastic. Hands down the best conference I have ever attended. As we gathered for each session, particularly those sessions where time was set aside for singing, prayer and Scriptural admonition and confession, I was moved by the unspeakable, discernable joy in the room. I, like C.J. Mahaney has commented on his blog about the conference, felt the presence of the LORD.

I will take time in coming days to comment specifically on the messages at the conference, so let me close with a few observations about the Q & A sessions with the conference headliners (John Piper, Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, Voodie Baucham, Mark Driscoll, and David Wells).

It was extremely encouraging to see the more intimate exchange and dialogue between men I admire deeply. I often feel that these pastoral "heroes" in my life are inaccessible, and even more sanctified than they really are. The Q & A sessions really provided an opportunity to see, in a small way, the hearts of these men and what drives them to persevere in their call to shepherd God's people and feed Jesus' sheep.

The passion with which these men communicate the truth about Jesus is contagious and makes me desire a more visible, discernable joy in Jesus in my life.

D.A. Carson and John Piper's inspiring words to the small-town, rural pastor were moving. I was deeply convicted about the aspirations that often ruminate in my heart and was glad to receive the stinging reminder that there is no higher calling than to feed God's people His Word.

Finally, seeing John Piper as the "cussing pastor" Mark Driscoll is now famously noted to be and hearing David Wells confess he wants to be "hip" were hysterical and endearing. If you are completely in the dark, for the sake of space in the cyber-world I encourage you to check out J. Harris' blog linked above for a fuller context.

My days in Minnesota were filled with sweetness and goodness from God. I look forward to spending some time sharing with you some of the things God revealed during the time spent in His Word over the next several days. I hope that you will stay tuned.