Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Consistent interpretation and application

Frank Viola published an open letter from Jon Zens to Jim Belcher, the respected author of Deep Church, a book I read and reviewed here.

I found Deep Church to be an interesting read but as I mentioned in my review, I ultimately saw it as a beginning and not an end. I thought Jim Belcher recognized some important areas that need to be changed but I don’t know that the “third way” that he calls “Deep Church” was the solution or went anywhere near far enough. I agree heartily with a lot of what John Zens points out as weaknesses in Deep Church. I would certainly agree that when we read 1 Corinthians 11-14, we see lots of practices that are foreign to traditional church services and conversely lots of practices in traditional church services that are absent from Scripture. The critique seems a bit selective though, especially given some of what I have read from both Jon Zens and Frank Viola.

For example I wonder, for the sake of consistency, why this open letter doesn’t point out headcovering? That is right in 1 Corinthians 11 mere verses before the Lord’s Supper passages and if we are going to assume universality for the Lord’s Supper passages that indicate a full meal, why an entirely different interpretation of the verses immediately preceding them? Arguments that appeal to it being merely cultural or that Paul was addressing a specific (and unmentioned) situation in the Corinthian church fall as flat as arguments against a participatory church gathering. What about restrictions on women speaking in the church gathering? That is likewise right in 1 Corinthians 14: 33-35 (as in all the churches of the saints). It seems odd that some practices are considered sacrosanct (open participation, full meal Lord’s Supper) but others are explained away or ignored (headcovering, gender roles in the church gathering). I am in full agreement with Jon’s concerns about Deep Church and how it retains much of the practice and flavor of the traditional, institutional church. I would just ask why there seems to be the inconsistency?

I would certainly not encourage us to fill in the blanks in Scripture. Nor would I encourage us to apply an eraser or white-out to areas of Scripture. Consistency demands…consistency.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Function trumps form

All too often in discussions of the church, the conversation centers on the form of the meeting. Meet "this way" and you are right, meet "that way" and you are wrong. Lots of groups fall into this trap. House church advocates can fall into the erroneous assumption that you must meet in a house to have a Biblical meeting. Plymouth Brethren assume that they are meeting in the most Biblical way but can easily fall into empty traditions. High liturgy groups, especially some Lutherans, see their meeting as the only faithful expression. I have already made my position clear on churches that crow about the Regulative Principle of worship. So many discussions and dogmatic positions center around the form of the church meeting: when and where we meet and what we do and who does it. I think that is presenting a solution to the wrong question.

Ultimately what we should be focusing on is not the form of the church meeting. That is not to say the form is unimportant but I am saying that the form question is a distant second to the question of how the local church body functions. Form is irrelevant outside of how it either supports or hampers Biblical community and that is partly the reason that so many conversations (i.e. arguments) about the church gathering go absolutely nowhere.

My biggest complaint about the institutional church is that it hampers and retards Biblical community. My big concern with the house/simple church movement is that it sees the form as the end all and be all. Neither is correct.

It is not about house church or simple church or institutional church. It is all about the way the church lives and gathers together and how that impacts our ministry to one another. Does the way we view the church enhance or impede the way we minister to one another, edify one another and equip one another? The Bible spends far more time talking about the way we should relate to one another in community and how our fellowship should edify us than it does about the order we should meet in on Sunday morning.

Have you ever wondered why God reveals so little in the way of explicit detail and instruction about the church meeting in Scripture? The church is clearly very important in God’s plan for His people. It would be so much easier if the Bible said: meet this day in this sort of building and wear these types of clothing and sing these types of songs with/without musical accompaniment. When you get there this is what you must do and this is the order you must do it in. As it happens, those explicit directions are absent and that may be inconvenient to us but the absence is for a good reason.

What did God’s people do with explicit, step by step instructions regarding worship? They perverted it. In the Bible study I am facilitating at work we are looking next week at the account of Jesus cleansing the temple in John 2 and I think that has important lessons for us today. The men in the temple selling oxen and sheep and pigeons and the money-changers were just providing a service. You apparently could just show up at the temple, exchange your coins for appropriate currency, buy an animal and have it sacrificed and do on your way. Following the exact letter of the law, you were doing what you were supposed to do but is that what God is after? God is not interested in our mechanical adherence to systems and traditions, He is has claimed our entire life. I see an important similarity between the way the church traditionally functions and the activities in the temple that Jesus was so incensed over. The traditional church, like temple worship in this time, was a “get in and get out” thing, fulfilling your obligation with as little fuss and trouble as possible. Why minister to people when I can drop some money in the plate and hire someone else to minister? Why drag an animal all the way to Jerusalem when I can show up and buy one right there?

So in place of explicit directions, we find ourselves with tidbits that we glean from Scripture in the form of a few direct commandments but more in the form of general principles that govern the church. It strikes me that in place of explicit directions we have overarching themes: Jesus Christ is the Great High Priest and He and He alone rules over the church. Christians are to minister to one another, all Christians and not just a select few. The church is a family, not just in theory but in reality, and should interact and relate to one another in that way. These are some of the principles we see in Scripture. I believe we also see some boundaries drawn. Worship should not be a free for all. There are specific ways that the different genders relate and function in the church. When the church gathers, it is a time for all Christians to bring something. Outside of these and a few other specifics, we don’t have much to go on. That leaves redeemed sinners in a pickle. We can choose to function under those general principles or we can try to help God out and fill in the blanks. I think the disastrous results of trying to fill in the blanks is apparent all around us but unfortunately when many people see the problems in the church, they assume it is because we didn’t fill in the right blanks or that we didn’t fill them in correctly instead of asking if we should try to speak where God is silent.

We all need to focus less on the form of the Sunday morning meeting and more on the community of believers of which the Sunday morning meeting is just a small part. I don’t think that we should deemphasize the more formal gatherings of the church, rather I think we need to give much greater emphasis to how the church functions (or frankly doesn’t function) both during and outside of the scheduled meeting times. Until we get the functioning of the church right and recognize the community of believers is more important that the “local church” organization, it won’t matter how much we fuss and feud over the forms. We will never even get close to “getting it right” because we are arguing about the wrong questions in the first place.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Russ Moore nails it!

Great, great essay by Russell Moore: God, the Gospel, and Glenn Beck. This is too important to leave until next Saturday's Best of the Week entry. You need to read it and share it today. Dr. Moore takes evangelicalism's embrace of Glenn Beck and rightly describes it as liberation theology of a right-wing kind:

Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is also a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah.

That is a devastating and valid indictment. Jesus didn't die for lower taxes or to preserve private property rights. I am heartened to see more and more Christians pointing out the obvious: Beck is a wolf in sheeps clothing and is far more of a threat to the church of Christ than Osama bin Laden or Richard Dawkins because he is deeply infiltrating the church and is welcomed in by those who are allegedly supposed to defend the truth. Too many Christians think the pursuit of the American dream is almost as important as the Gospel or worse yet cannot differentiate between the two.

Dr. Moore closes with this and I couldn't say it any better....

It’s sad to see so many Christians confusing Mormon politics or American nationalism with the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, don’t get me wrong, I’m not pessimistic. Jesus will build his church, and he will build it on the gospel. He doesn’t need American Christianity to do it. Vibrant, loving, orthodox Christianity will flourish, perhaps among the poor of Haiti or the persecuted of Sudan or the outlawed of China, but it will flourish.

And there will be a new generation, in America and elsewhere, who will be ready for a gospel that is more than just Fox News at prayer.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

A pale shadow

In response to a comment on my review of Pagan Christianity, I made this comment:

The big issue is that in reading the New Testament and holding what we see up to the institutional church, we don't see anything similar at all.

The response was:

You seriously do not see "anything similar" in local churches?

Along the same thought, would you say that you see an exact representation of New Testament churches in today's house churches?

So I thought about it more and I thought my subsequent response warranted a separate post. First I don't see the local gathering of the church as analogous to institutional local churches, the splintered dozens of churches that dot the landscape of America. In fact I don't see any warrant at all for fragmented Christianity, where some people go to "my church" and other Christians go to "their church". We are the church or we are not. Even the form of the traditional local church divided into Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Evangelical Free and a million other iterations designed to divide the church and turn local churches into competing entities and Christians into consumers and shoppers is unbiblical.

Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I see a pale shadow of what the New Testament describes as the gathered church in the institutional church. We read of the church devoting itself to prayer, what we have now is one man praying while others listen. We read that they were devoted to the apostle's teaching, today we are devoted to the teaching of the hired expert. We read of a priesthood of all believers, what we have is a priesthood of a few and a mute laity. The Bible speaks over and over again of "one another" and the institutional church is "one and all the others". The Bible describes early Christians as collecting money for the poor, the institutional church gathers money to sustain the institution. I see what is essentially a Roman Catholic ecclesiology of ritual and hierarchy and control that is changed in doctrine but not in practice.

As far as house churches, never been to one. I would assume that there are no perfect manifestations in house churches or other simple expressions of the gathered church but a lack of perfection should spur us to greater study rather than throwing up our hands and accepting the institutional status quo. I don't think the group we gather with is perfect, far from it, but all of the men of the church are active participants. We actually participate instead of spectate. We minister to one another and edify one another. Can you say that about the church gathering in a traditional setting?

I guess I would like to turn the question around: Do you see the manifestation of the institutional church anywhere in the New Testament?

Best of the week entry 3

Comes from Bill McKeever and is a look at Glenn Beck's inconsistent mormon soteriology. Bill has some high hopes that Beck will come out of mormonism and into Christ, which is my hope as well.

According to his testimony, the Mormon Church became a part of Beck's life at a time of great emotional need, so we should not at all be surprised if he will continue to demonstrate a level of loyalty to his church. Many who transition out of Mormonism tend to do this slowly. However, if Beck continues to publicly express theological positions that contradict his leaders, there will come a time when his church will no longer be loyal to him. If that happens, I hope he will find a warm welcome among Christians that have prayed for him during his spiritual search for truth. All I can say at this point is, let's be patient and see how this all pans out. If the Holy Spirit is really doing a work in his life, I am sure He will do an excellent job at bringing Beck into a more consistent relationship with the Father. Whether that happens sooner, later, or never, I have no intention to stop praying for him.

I hope that Bill is correct and that Beck is being influenced by the Gospel as he spends time with evangelicals and that God will at some point break through his stony heart and that Glenn Beck will be saved. I fear that the opposite is true, that Beck will continue to influence evangelical leaders and lead well meaning but confused people astray. My trust is in Christ and in that we rest.

Best of the week entry 2

Eric Carpenter has a series of posts about the strawman arguments used by defenders of the institutional church and others against house churches. Here is the first entry but all of them are worth reading!

A Pilgrim's Progress: Strawman Arguments and House Churches

Best of the week entry 1

Comes from Seth McBee: Church isn't what you do on Sunday, or a building you go to

It is amazing how much you have to keep saying this. It is amazing how much you have to remind people who claim to follow Jesus that the church isn't an organization, but a people. I have once again been emailed by someone saying that I am spiritually confused because I allowed Muslims to come and pray in our church. Huh? If you actually broke that down, that would mean that I allowed a Muslim to enter into my body and pray inside of me. The term "church" literally means, a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly.

I understand where he is coming from. We say this over and over and everyone apparently seems to agree but in practice we still act like church is the self-sustaining institution where we meet instead of the living Body of Christ acting as His witnesses to a lost world.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Men and boys

There is an article in the New York Times that is garnering a lot of attention on a familiar topic, the delay of adulthood or the extension of adolescence, however you want to look at it. The essay, What Is It About 20-Somethings? , is a fascinating and disturbing look at the state of 20-something adults.

The 20s are a black box, and there is a lot of churning in there. One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation.

We’re in the thick of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five milestones. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.

I read a take on this topic yesterday from Mark Driscoll. This should have been an excellent post from Mark but it didn’t turn out that way. Unfortunately Mark reverts back to form, going for cheap laughs in lines like this:

The tough retrosexual guys consume women, porn, alcohol, drugs, television, music, video games, toys, cars, sports, and fantasy leagues, as if being a man is defined by how much meat you can shove through your colon, how many beers you can pound, how fast you can drive, how stinky you can fart, how hard you can hit, how far you can spit, how loud you can belch, and how big your truck is.

Har har har! Guffaws all around!

This is a serious topic but it turns into a chortle fest, although frankly it is a pretty lame attempt at humor. I find it deeply ironic that in a diatribe against men acting like boys, you have a man trying to show how “real” he is by sprinkling locker room humor throughout his essay. Contrast what Mark wrote with this serious and thoughtful post from Albert Mohler on the same topic. Mark Driscoll apparently wants to have it both ways. On the one hand he wants people to take him seriously as a thinker and leader in the church, someone who has valuable insights and opinions (and who is someone that people will buy books from). On the other, he just can’t seem to resist delving back into potty humor to show that he is not some stuffed suit, that he is raw and real as if that makes his opinions more authentic, almost as if he were saying "Hey look at me, I am just as cool as you are but I talk about God too!"

The problem is here goes beyond internet pornography or video games. Those are merely symptoms of the problem and are examples of the market responding to reality. The deeper issue is that society no longer demands that men take responsibility as men and it does so by negating the single greatest maturing influence upon men: women. Getting married and having children pushes men into maturity. Having a wife and children to care for has an amazing effect on men but that is no longer a priority in society. Our cultural norms now tell women to put off getting “tied down” by marriage and kids and instead to give men what they want without expecting anything of them. What was interesting from the Times article was the impact of sexuality on maturity. We are living out the old and seemingly quant saying “Why buy the cow when you are getting the milk for free?”. It is little wonder young men don’t grow up, they are able to have all of the benefits of being an adult man without any of the responsibility. Instead of career, marriage and family maturing men, society waits around for men to become mature on their own and then get married and get a real job. Little wonder that without anything pushing them, men are acting like boys later and later into life.

I am a big believer that boys need to be prepped for being a man sooner rather than later but we find that a lot of what we value in society acts in opposition to this need. A big culprit is college (yes I am banging that drum again). Colleges have turned into hiding places where kids who have, against their will, become legal adults can extend out their childhood by 4, 5 or even more years of going to school. The line between “higher education” and “finding a place to hide until I can move back home” is getting pretty blurry. The other obstacle is enablement, parents and women enabling men to keep living out the behavior that prevents maturation. It wasn’t that long ago that men who lived at home or were unable to hold down a job were not terribly attractive to women and their parents were completely disinterested in having adult kids back in the nest.

This has a significant impact on the church. We already deal with a dearth of young men in the church. Scratch that, we have a serious lack of men at all and of those who do show up not many are terribly engaged. I would hazard a guess that the leading predictor of how engaged a man is with the church is his marital and family status and I am confident that studies would bear that out. The lack of men, especially mature men, in the church puts additional pressure on women to “fill the gaps” where men are absent and that leads to unbiblical usurpation of roles that they are not called to. In addition, more and more of the burden of ministry falls onto the shoulders of the few men that do step up in the church.

We are rapidly becoming a society of women, women without husbands and without children and that is unhealthy. More women are in the workforce than ever before as more men drop out. More women are putting off having kids until later in life or never at all. More kids are being raised by strangers in daycare and public schools and at home by women without husbands. More men are losing jobs and unable to find new ones, leading to a swelling population of men without jobs, wives or children and that is a dangerous situation.

Men and women were made to be together in the bounds of marriage and raising children together. Family both requires and fosters maturity in men and without the tempering influence of wives and children many men will stay in perpetual adolescence for decades. It is high time we demand that men and women alike grow up and start acting like adults instead of kids who can buy alcohol and drive cars.

Where are all of the babies?

The Wall Street Journal reports today that Americans had the lowest birthrate in 2009 that we have had in a century.

The U.S. birth rate has dropped for the second year in a row, and experts think the wrenching recession led many people to put off having children. The 2009 birth rate also set a record: lowest in a century.

Births fell 2.7% last year even as the population grew, numbers released Friday by the National Center for Health Statistics show.

"It's a good-sized decline for one year. Every month is showing a decline from the year before," said Stephanie Ventura, the demographer who oversaw the report.

The birth rate, which takes into account changes in the population, fell to 13.5 births for every 1,000 people last year. That is down from 14.3 in 2007 and 30 in 1909, when it was common to have big families.

It is an interesting phenomena that Americans and most other industrialized nations are seeing birthrates shrinking year after year, especially since the population is living longer and the ballooning amount of unfunded mandates is going to fall on the shoulders of an increasingly smaller pool of workers.

Some of this clearly has to do with extending “adolescence” (more on that in a later post). It also has to do with the equation many people have pounded into them that children are a liability and should be factored into your budget like a new car or funding your Roth IRA. When the economy goes bad, people cut back on all sorts of stuff including children. I don’t think that people have to have as many kids as they physcially can but I certainly disagree with the notion that kids have to be built into your budget like anything else. I wonder how many people that put off having kids or having more kids pay bills for cable, Netflix, internet, multiple cell phones, new cars and annually take expensive vacations. In many ways it seems that we make all sorts of luxuries “necessities” and see children as “discretionary”.

I fully expect this behavior from the world but from fellow believers I see a very similar attitude, an attitude of “children are a blessing but I don’t think I can handle more than a couple of blessings”. The voluntary restrictions on family size in the Body of Christ speaks to how deeply we have embraced what the world values and how thoroughly many of us see God’s blessings as incompatible with our lifestyles. Is it better to not have children because they are “so expensive” or is it better to have and love children who wear hand me downs, never go to Disney and perhaps can’t afford to go to the best colleges?

We go into debt to finance an unsustainable and empty lifestyle and go to extremes to prevent children from coming into this world. If that isn’t a sign of a society that is on the precipice of disaster, I don’t know what is.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Capital punishment for those who follow a Savior who was executed by the state

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. What are you talking about, you are getting what is coming to you!" (Luke 23:39-43 American Version)

So here is something I have wrestled with lately. I am a law and order guy. On issues of the criminal justice system, I am all for locking up criminals, especially those who commit especially heinous crimes like murder, rape and child molestation. Someone who molests a child can be tossed in jail and never see the light of day again and I have no problem with that. I don’t see the state as a redemptive actor, in other words I don’t think prison rehabilitation is a Gospel issue, although I do see visiting those in prison as a worthy ministry and commend those who do so faithfully. When it comes to the ultimate penalty though, i.e. execution by the state, I am troubled and I wonder if Roman Catholics are more consistent here from a sanctity of life standpoint. We are followers of a Man who was executed by the state and while His execution was necessary to secure my salvation and He was innocent of any crime (or any sin for that matter), it still remains that there seems something disquieting about Christians advocating for the execution of criminals.

I need to clarify that I am not talking about the right of the state to enact laws that lead to the execution of criminals. That is clear from Scripture. I am talking about Christian support for and even advocacy of the execution of criminals. Nor am I talking about issues of racial disparity in sentencing or socio-economic factors that lead to criminal behavior. That is a side topic but not one that really impacts what I am looking at here.

What are your thoughts? I have to admit to feeling like a Christians should not support the death penalty but I also don’t think that we are called to work toward abolishing it. Is there a “Christian” position on this topic?

Monday, August 23, 2010


Thanks to my boy James for fixing my header so it doesn't look so goofy!

Franklin Graham plays the fool for the media. Again.

Franklin Graham is becoming a reliable source of crazed quotes for the media to paint all Christians with the broad brush of kookiness. Now he has provided a cornucopia of sound bytes published by Time Magazine regarding the dreaded "Ground Zero Mosque". What is interesting is that he seems far more concerned with his Americanism than he does about the Gospel. When you are asked about something like this as a "minister" and spend more time talking about "our country" and "America" than you do about Jesus Christ, it is a serious problem for someone who claims to follow Christ. I am far less concerned about a mosque in New York City than I am about Christians acting like fools in the name of patriotism. This event is bringing out the ugliest and most inane behavior among followers of Christ and they are bringing shame to the church of Christ by their words and deeds.

Instead of railing against Islam in the name of America, maybe Franklin Graham can try loving Muslims in the name of Christ.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12: 21)

Book Review: Pagan Christianity

Now I understand.

Whenever I saw people review or even mention Frank Viola and George Barna's book Pagan Christianity, the reaction was pretty visceral. Having just finished it, now I understand. I can think of nothing more threatening to the churchy status quo than a book that tears apart piece by piece our most sacred traditions and exposes them as inventions of man that not only are not Biblical but actually hinder Biblical community and ministry.

What Barna and Viola have to say is nothing new to me and in many ways echoes what I have been thinking the last few years. They just put it more concisely and clearly and with a great deal more research than I do. I imagine that a lot of people will be put off by the title. What do you mean, pagan Christianity! This is how we do church and it is by the Bible! We follow the Regulative Principle of Worship after all! The reality is jarringly different, even for someone who long ago came to see institutionalized Christianity as what can only be called a perversion of the Biblical model of the church. The title is provocative but intentionally so and for a purpose.

I can hardly be effusive enough in my praise for this book. Barna and Viola go step by step through all of the traditions that we associate with "church" and dismantle the flimsy excuses for why we do what we do. Very little escapes their pen, from the oxymoronic "Christian tithing" to pews & pulpits to the entire clergy system. It is helpful to look at these trappings of "church" to see that they don't appear in Scripture, show where they came from and how they are culturally derived and finally why they impede Christian community.

There are some negatives. They use some of the same phrases over and over again ( ex. "knew nothing of"). They are smart guys, I am sure they could come up with some different ways to express their thoughts. Some of the footnotes were a little sketchy. I am a little leery of making bold statements footnoted by an email as the source. There are some pretty sweeping generalizations of things like vivid depictions of how the church met even though we have some pretty vague descriptions of the church meeting in Scripture. I found the weakest chapter near the end of the book, Reapproaching the New Testament: The Bible is not a jigsaw puzzle. I found the tone to be a bit haughty as if these two had figured out the key that has eluded Biblical interpreters through the centuries. I agree with some of their assessments but ironically one of their main beefs, i.e. proof-texting, happens a lot in the book with broad statements supported by a couple of parenthetical references to Scripture. I just found the tone to be a bit off-putting and the implications troubling. I will concede that the letters of Paul are only one side of the conversation but I think it is dangerous to try to "fill in the blanks" and make doctrinal statements based on what we think was going on. I am confident that the God who created all things ex nihilo is capable of preserving what we needed to have and He saw fit to not preserve the "other half" of the conversations of Paul with the various churches. I can see some people using these principles to chuck all sorts of Biblical truths in the name of cultural or situational anomalies that don't apply today.

The big question this book should leave the reader with is a simple one, but important. What do you do with this information? Do you seek a more faithful expression of the church, seek to live more like the first century church (not in terms of dressing in togas but in terms of living in a community of intentional witness to the world)? Or do you toss up your hands and go back to the Scripturally unsupportable model of church that dominates our cultural landscape? I am not sure what I would have done a few years ago (besides not read this book in the first place!). I really wonder what men who have invested enormous time and money into vocational ministry who read this with an open mind do with it. Do they leave "the ministry"? Do they explain it away or compartmentalize it and go on as before?

I would encourage, even challenge, those who are defenders of traditional church structures to read Pagan Christianity and see if our most cherished traditions have any basis in Scripture at all or if they are, as argued in this book, inventions of a pagan culture that sought to Christianize their pagan practices.

What if you found out that the most cherished traditions of your church were actually working against being faithful to the Bible? What would you do?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ministry was never intended to be a one man show

Viola and Barna understand the source of pastoral stress and burnout, i.e. that ministry was never intended to fall on one man alone. From Pagan Christianity:

Unfortunately, few pastors have connected the dots to discover that it is their office that causes this underlying turbulence. Simply put: Jesus Christ never intended any person to sport all the hats a present-day pastor is expected to wear. He never intended any one person to bear such a load. (Pagan Christianity, pg. 139)

Tomorrow morning I plan on publishing my review of Pagan Christianity.

Religious wars in America

In the midst of a horrible economy that is not getting better, the need for a serious discussion on unfunded entitlements like Social Security, a raging drug war on our undefended southern border, an enormous national debt and judges creating new rights with impunity, we approach the November election cycle talking about....religion.

The Ground Zero mosque. Gay marriage in California. The president's religion.

These topics have little, if anything, to do with the economy, the issue that has dominated the political landscape all year and sent incumbents into a panic about their own job security. But with just over two months to go until the November midterms, curveball social issues have jolted a campaign season that until now has been about job creation and fiscal discipline -- with a little illegal immigration and health care thrown in the mix.

I read this yesterday and I think this is probably true and horribly dangerous. We can expect a great deal of religious talk from politicians and their cronies in the next few months, talk accompanied by nods of understanding and "amen!" from many believers. Haven't we learned anything from Europe's wars of religion that ended fairly recently with the truce in Northern Ireland and that have left Europe a secular wasteland of people who equate Christianity with war and violence? The cages still hang in Münster, Germany where the bodies of the heretical leaders of the Münster rebellion hung in public after they were tortured and killed. There is nothing easier for power hungry people to abuse than religion and that has been true for thousands of years. The lesson we should learn from the cages at Münster is not "Anabaptism bad" but that there is an inherent danger in trying to use the state and the sword to advance the Kingdom, whether seeking to preserve the state or overthrow it.

I am concerned about politicians cynically hijacking the church to recruit foot soldiers in some sort of "culture war". I am very concerned that fear of Islam is becoming a way for demagogues to pit people against one another for their own gain in the same way that Adolf Hitler used Jews for his own purposes. One might object that there are many Muslims willing to kill and die for their agenda. I would agree and I would say that there are many men throughout history who invoked the name of Christ when slaying others. Further I would ask what any believer in Jesus Christ has to fear from terrorism? What can a suicide bomber do to us? Leave me alive and I am a witness for Christ. Kill my body and I am at home with Him. Paul describes it as the great "win-win" of the Gospel, that alive or dead we are victorious in He who won the victory and that is something that al-Qaeda cannot touch if we truly believe what we say we believe (Phil 1:21-24). We are told not to fear the one who can kill the body but rather fear the One who can cast the soul into hell (Matt 10:28).

Brothers and sisters, we are not called to be footsoldiers in the clash of civilizations and we have been the patsies of power hungry men too many times in the past. The Gospel is not advanced when America wins and it is not thwarted when America loses. We are not called to win the war over radical Islam, we are called to the way of the cross and that way often demands that we lay down our life for the Gospel, something any follower of Christ should be happy to do. The way of the cross is not the way of the world and it will always be at odds with the world's agenda.

Read this

If you don't read anything else today or this week, read What Now? from Becky Lynn Black. It is easy to talk of God's goodness when we feel good, it is easy to talk of His mercy when things are going "our way". What do you do when God sets a path before you that you don't want to walk? Do you still see His love? Powerful words from a sister that you need to read. Today.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Best of the week entry 5

Also comes from Al Mohler and takes a chilling look at the agenda behind secular higher educations, “And Then They Are All Mine” — The Real Agenda of Some College Professors :

The college experience is, of necessity, a time for the development of critical thinking. It is a season of tremendous intellectual formation that produces lasting effects. Students should learn the disciplines of critical thinking and analysis, and in this transitional period of life, they will determine whether they will hold to the beliefs and commitments of their parents.

But they should not be subjected to the ideological indoctrination and intellectual condescension that is found in far too many classrooms and on far too many campuses. If nothing else, these remarkable statements of professorial intention should awaken both students and parents to what passes for education within much of higher education. The open hostility and contempt toward Christianity and Christian convictions is truly horrifying.

And then they are mine. It is hard to imagine words more alarming than those.

This is true in secondary school as well as colleges and universities.

I am quite convinced that very little that goes on in the education machinery of America has anything to do with education and everything to do with what is being described here: frankly an attempt to indoctrinate children. Of course these "educators" don't see this as indoctrination, they see it as providing an alternate worldview from what has been pounded into these poor kids by their parents but whether a parent or an educator, older adults in positions of authority are going to have a disproportionate impact on the attitudes and worldview of children and young adults.

I am not suggesting that all teachers and college profs are part of a sinister conspiracy against Christianity but I am suggesting that the thinkers of the movement, the ideologues, certainly are. I am also clearly here and elsewhere asking some hard questions about the whole college culture that American Christians have bought into as the ticket to middle-class comfort.

Best of the week entry 4

Mark at Called Out In Kansas has an interesting post on gender, Men Love Your Wives. It is not intended to be a comprehensive statement on the issue but I appreciate that Mark is thinking about the topic, one which is fraught with emotional outbursts and generalizations but not much honest study.

One of my biggest pet peeves lately is the general lack of understanding in the body on what it means to be a man in the Kingdom. I have seen multiple instances lately of men in the church, and often times in “the church”, doing things to further their own ambition or desires, to the detriment of, or at the expense of, their wives. For example, some men place a lot of importance in their hobbies. Whether it be golf, hunting or something else, the tendency is to make this activity a priority, without regard for its effect on the spouse. No expense is spared, either in the way of time off from work or the expense of the actual activity, to allow the man his good time, but when it comes time for his wife to spend money scrapbooking, as an example, it is “just a stupid hobby” or a “waste of money”, and therefore is either restricted, not allowed, or allowed grudgingly. This is just one simple example, but the fact of life is that men in America do not understand what it means to be a true Man of God.

This is what being a man in the Kingdom is about, loving your wife as Christ loved the church. I have been guilty (and still too often am) of putting patriarchy ahead of love. The Bible is clear that men should lead in the church and the home but even more so that they should love. Men who love their wives but refuse to lead and provide for their families don't honor Christ. Men who are happy to rule over their families but not love them don't honor Christ either.

I still don't understand scrapbooking.

Best of the week entry 3

Now this is something I can get behind: A Bible and a Gold Band. Instead of gold=evil, how about what can my gold do for others?

“Jesus began to tender our hearts. One day my Charisma Magazine arrived and in it was an article about With This Ring. I looked down at my beautiful wedding ring and said, ‘Oh no, Lord! Not that! Not me!’ But He grabbed my heart and made the sight of my ring unpleasant as it sat on my finger. It suddenly became an idol to me. He told me He didn’t need my ring, but He did need my obedience. In the end, I got a plain gold band, unadorned, and I can’t tell you the joy it brings me to know that it’s being there means children somewhere will not die from drinking unclean water. “

I don't anything about this group With This Ring, so I wouldn't recommend sending your gold to California without looking into them closely, but I like the concept. This sister traded her traditional wedding ring for a plain band so that the value locked up in the old ring could help others. Some may cluck their tongues and wonder why she would replace one ring with another but I appreciate that this sister made a sacrifice that will benefit the poor. I think Christ is honored with that and it should serve as a wake-up call for all of us to look at how we can help others with the wealth we enjoy.

Best of the week entry 2

Comes from Alan Knox and he asks a pertinent question: Is The Church Top Heavy?

His answer (and mine) is yes and that is cause for all sorts of concern.

In Scripture, we see something different. Everyone takes part in teaching, discipling, admonishing, training, etc. The entire church works together to serve their community and proclaim the gospel to those how are not believers. Thus, many, many more took part in “leadership” in the examples that we see in Scripture. In other words, when it comes to number of people functioning, the church today is not as top heavy as the church in Scripture.

So, yes, today the church is top heavy in the emphasis that is placed on one leader or a few leaders. But, the church is not top heavy when it comes to the functions that every believer should take part in.

In fact, as you can probably tell, these two senses of “top heavy” work together. Since we emphasize one leader or a few leaders, then others are not required to (or even allowed to) function as they should. And (to look at it another way), since everyone is not functioning as they should (to build up one another together), then one or a few have to bear the brunt of the responsibility.

Either way you look it, it’s a problem.

The church is often described as the Body of Christ and if in a body only the left leg is working, the left leg gets broken down and worn out and the rest of the body atrophies. The Body of Christ only works as it was intended when the whole body works together.

Best of the week entry 1

The first entry is not merely an interesting blog post but an absolutely vital one. Few issues are more important to the church than understanding the trustworthiness of the Scriptures because without that we are left to our own devices and that never ends well. Dr. Mohler’s latest essay, The Inerrancy of Scripture: The Fifty Years’ War . . . and Counting, is a compelling look at the current landscape in the fight for inerrancy and ultimately what is at stake:

As Dr. Packer said years ago, “when you encounter a present-day view of Holy Scripture, you encounter more than a view of Scripture. What you meet is a total view of God and the world, that is, a total theology, which is both an ontology, declaring what there is, and an epistemology, stating how we know what there is. This is necessarily so, for a theology is a seamless robe, a circle within which everything links up with everything else through its common grounding in God. Every view of Scripture, in particular, proves on analysis to be bound up with an overall view of God and man.”

The rejection of biblical inerrancy is bound up with a view of God that is, in the end, fatal for Christian orthodoxy. We are entering a new phase in the battle over the Bible’s truthfulness and authority. We should at least be thankful for undisguised arguments coming from the opponents of biblical inerrancy, even as we are ready, once again, to make clear where their arguments lead.

If God is a God who cannot preserve something like a written record of His revelation to man, how can He be a God who created everything from nothing, who came as the Christ to live a perfect life, die and rise again? How can we know anything about God and how can we assume that He IS God? The finite, fallible and powerless God who is unable (or worse unwilling) to preserve His single source of authoritative revelation to man is little better than a Greek god of mythology, not the God the Bible presents.

The battle over the Bible is simply an issue of authority. Which is the authority for the church, the wisdom of man that tells us that the Bible simply cannot be true or the wisdom of God that shows mankind to be the foolish ones? When you demand that the Bible prove itself to the same scholars that have been wrong again and again for centuries, it is not God you seek. You seek instead to supplant God and replace Him with yourself and that empty promise has been causing trouble since the very beginning when the serpent whispered: “Did God really say?” The enemy is still whispering that same question and it is every bit as effective now as it was in the Garden.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Back in the (conference) saddle again

So tomorrow I am off to the first theology conference I have been to in a very long time. It is only one day, only one hour away, some friends of mine are going and best of all it is free!

The 2010 God and Culture Conference

Contending for the Faith in Emerging Culture

The Christian faith is under attack from many quarters. For the last decade the church has endured the assault of the New Atheism as espoused by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, who charge religion and people of faith with creating evil in the world. In addition, radical Islam is making inroads into American culture, undermining the Judeo-Christian ethic upon which this nation was founded.

More disturbing is the assault on biblical orthodoxy that is coming from within the church itself in the form of the Emergent or Emerging movement led by Tony Jones, Brian Mclaren and Doug Paggit, a fulfillment of Paul's warning to the Ephesian elders that "from among your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things."

I have been to a conference at the building this group of Christians meets in before and what really attracted me, I am a bit ashamed to admit, is that James White is the keynote speaker. Interestingly, the other two men who are guest speakers "co-pastor" their churches with their wives, I wonder if that will come up during lunch?

I am wondering if I need to use a pseudonym when I show up so I don't get escorted out as an apostate?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What makes a “good” preacher?

Carl Trueman weighs in on what makes a good preacher according to Martin Luther, with some editorial comments thrown in. The post appears at the Reformation 21 blog, Luther on the Marks of a Good Preacher I

While there has been an understandable reaction in parts of the Reformed world against the kind of radical downgrading of ordained ministry which has come to mark much of the evangelical world, this has itself created problems. Perhaps most obvious is the priestly culture it can generate, where the result is that some come to think that, if they are not ordained, they cannot be of real use to the church.

Sounds great, that is a problem in the church (the part about men think that they cannot be useful in the church unless they are ordained)! I am with you brother. Until the next two sentences….

This then leads individuals who simply are not called to the ministry nonetheless to pursue it, often at great cost -- financial and emotional -- to themselves and frequently to their loved ones. Indeed, this probably accounts for part of the high rate of ministerial drop-outs.


So the problem is not that the system of ordained professional clergy that we inherited from Roman Catholicism, it is that we have Christians who are not qualified for “the ministry” trying to play at being preachers.

See, I think the problem is that we exalt vocational, professional ministry and restrict so much of the ministry of the church to those who are members of the priestly caste that men who want to serve God understandably are trying to do what the church culture tells them, i.e. go to seminary, get ordained and get hired as a preacher. For many men sitting in a pew and putting a check in the plate is not really getting it done so they want to do more and in our church culture the only way for a man to feel like he is really serving God is to be a minister, church planter or missionary. The culture of the church essentially prohibits men from exercising the “priesthood of all believers” outside of a very limited scope unless they have the proper credentials, skills and ecclesiastical approval in the form of ordination.

Clearly we cannot have “bad” preachers running around preaching Christ, it gives the whole profession a bad name. To avoid this, Mr. Trueman helpfully lists the first five marks that qualify a man as a good preacher according to Martin Luther (apparently there are four more)…

The first five are: ability to teach; possession of a good head; eloquence; clarity of speech; and a good memory. The list is interesting because it focuses first on practicalities, things often lost in the romantic spiritual notions of ministry we often have. In short, the person should be able to think and speak clearly, two traits which are often intimately connected. It seems like common sense, but this basic elements are often neglected by churches, seminaries, sessions, elder boards, presbyteries and classes. To put it bluntly: if you cannot put a decent, clear sentence into English and speak it in a way that others can understand, you are not called to the ministry, no matter how much that inner voice tells you that God is calling you to preach, or your mum tells you you'd make a wonderful pastor.

Amen to that! We never see God using anyone to preach except the best speakers. That is why Jesus held auditions for being an apostle, making sure that those men selected as the Twelve had a sharp memory, eloquence and the ability to speak English coherently. Paul made very clear when writing to the Corinthians that eloquence was a must-have qualification to preaching the Gospel:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor 1:17)


Each time I read those five supposed qualifications of a “good preacher” I become more flabbergasted at not only how they don’t appear in Scripture but actually run contrary to Scripture. I guess if you are simply observing a performance and paying for it to boot, you have a right to expect a high quality presentation but when it comes to Biblical preaching, eloquence doesn't count for anything. In fact it actually detracts from Gospel preaching and removes the power of the cross!

The culture we have cultivated in the church says to men: “Unless you are a pastor, your purpose in the church is to bring your family to hear someone else teach for the rest of your life. You might be called on to teach Sunday school if you are a "good" teacher and if you stick around long enough you might be called to be a deacon or elder and get to attend lots of meetings, but the week in and week out reality of your life in the church is showing up, attending and funding. Little wonder so many men seek vocational ministry on the one hand or have no use for “church” on the other. The message I take from this essay is that if you are a Christian man you better not bother to be a preacher of the Gospel unless you meet these qualifications, otherwise you are wasting your time and money. Leave preaching to the professionals, those who are “qualified” by virtue of a good head and eloquence!

I am morbidly curious to see if the other four marks of qualified “good preacher” have any Scriptural basis at all.

I hate going to church

Let me explain. I don’t hate gathering with God’s people, I actually love it! I don’t hate many of the things that we have associated with “going to church” like praying with other believers, reading and studying Scriptures, breaking bread and sharing meals. I love those as well. Fellowship and community with other believers is challenging and comforting at the same time and I would love to have more of it.

So why do I lead off my post with “I hate going to church”. Here’s why…

I hate that phrase

I hate what it has become

I hate that people use “going to church” to mean pausing what they are doing to carve out a few hours for gathering with the church before going back to what they were doing. I don’t like waking my kids up to chase them around to get ready on Sunday morning by saying “get up, we are going to church!”. I hate that we invest so much time and money and effort into an hour long weekly meeting and so little time and money and effort into taking Christ to the lost who are never going to come into one of our tidy, neat buildings full of smiling people in their Sunday best.

I hate that the phrase has made “church” synonymous with the building used to meet with other Christians instead of being synonymous with all of God’s people everywhere. I hate that “church” is an event in our week instead of a present reality of who we are. I hate that we dress up and put on a happy face because we are going to church instead of being able to interact with other believers as we really are, sharing our burdens with one another so that we can lift up and minister to each other.

There might be no other phrase that culturally, succinctly captures what is wrong in the church. In fact I think we should ban that phrase entirely.

I love the church.

I hate going to church.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

About that mosque

I haven’t weighed in on the “Ground Zero mosque” because the conversation has been so overwrought and frankly ridiculous to the point that having a rational discussion is nigh impossible. The underlying problem is that the talking heads are using this for political purposes and to score points. The idea that the President would weigh in on this issue speaks to his arrogance at presuming to speak on every matter and his political immaturity. Likewise, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and others are clearly using this to pander for potential voters in the 2012 primaries. Conservatives have plenty of important issues to run on, this is not one of them. The bigger issue is that people cannot distinguish between the two questions that are being brought up and blurred together. Can they build this mosque and should they build this mosque?

On the question of “should”. I think it is intemperate and unwise to build a mosque there given the history. It strikes me that the location itself was obviously going to be provocative and that had to be obvious when it was first proposed. This move has reopened many wounds that were starting to heal from September 11th. On the other hand, I am not a muslim so no one asked me if I thought it was a good idea and I don’t live in New York and that really is not the point. Lots of people do lots of stuff that I think they shouldn't do.

On the question of “can”. I think that there is no legal reason to oppose this mosque and certainly no “Christian” reason, no more so than there is a “Christian” reason to oppose the construction of a mormon temple or a Jewish synagogue. If we don’t want mosques being built in America, we need to preach Christ and Him crucified to muslims. I consider Islam to be a false religion but let’s take a step back from the American flag for a second. A muslim in a mosque is no more lost than a mormon or a Jew or an atheist. We have no business opposing a mosque in New York City in the name of Christ. The Roman Catholic church terrorized those who opposed it for centuries, should we oppose the building of Catholic cathedrals?

It troubles me that so many professing Christians get all worked up about a mosque in New York City but can’t be bothered to witness to muslims. If we are following Christ and witnessing to the world, which is the more accurate representation of Him: anger or meekness? Hatred or love? Demonstrations in the streets or demonstrating love to our neighbors?

We should be praying for Muslims, not protesting them.

College tuition paying for everything but education

Another take on the cost of college focusing on how very few tuition dollars go to instructing your kids. From USA Today, Where's all that college tuition money going?:

The chief reason why costs keep rising is that education has become a minor player in higher education. At public universities, only 28% of spending goes for instruction; private colleges do a bit better at 33%.

So at the big public schools most kids go to, only about a quarter of the money you pay in tuition goes to instruction. The rest goes for athletics, research and other things that create the vaunted “college experience”. Thanks to Title IX, many schools have scores of women’s athletic programs in the name of fairness that generate no revenue at all and those sports along with esoteric men’s sports are subsidized by football and basketball and tuition dollars.

For every school that is an academic and athletic powerhouse like Michigan where the athletic department brings in enormous sums of money, there are lots of schools that make a pittance on their sports programs but they still have to offer them to be “competitive” because it is part of the college experience.

Frankly you can spend four years getting the “college experience” and sitting in classrooms and come out little changed and marginally better educated. I learned some stuff in college but I have learned a lot more in the years since. When I lived in the dorms at Ohio State, the "college experience" was mostly skipping class to play video games and stumbling through the week to get to weekends filled with drunken debauchery. You can get that without going into six figures of debt.

The dirty secret is that, whether by design or fortuitous chance or a combination of both, the higher education establishment has created a monopoly for itself where they are perceived to hold the key to middle-class prosperity in America. It is generally understood that you cannot be successful in America without a college degree and only colleges and universities grant them. You have to go to them on their terms and their accomplices in the Federal government are subsidizing that process by making unsecured debt readily accessible to 19 year old kids, enabling colleges and universities to keep raising their tuition year after year. It is a perfect situation for higher education: you hold the keys to prosperity for every single American, you set your own prices with essentially no accountability, you can raise those prices in what amounts to collusion with other schools and the Federal government provides financing that is not subject to creditworthiness to fund it. Our current President wants to expand the number of people in college, further jacking up costs and watering down the value of a bachelor’s degree.

Isn’t it about time that we start asking some hard questions about colleges and universities in America and the Federal governments enabling of their addiction to student loan funding?


Another great quote, albeit a pretty lengthy one...

Unfortunately, however, the Reformers carried the Roman Catholic clergy/laity distinction straight into the Protestant movement. They also kept the Catholic idea of ordination. Although the abolished the office of the bishop, they resurrected the one=bishop rule, clothing it in new garb.

The rallying cry of the Reformation was the restoration of the priesthood of all believers. However, this restoration was only partial. Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli affirmed the believing priesthood with respect to one's individual relationship to God. They rightly taught that every Christian as direct access to God without the need of a human mediator. This was a wonderful restoration. But it was one-sided.
What the Reformers failed to do was recover the corporate dimension of the believing priesthood. They restored the doctrine of the believing priesthood soteriologically - i.e., as it related to salvation. But they failed to restore it ecclesiologically, i.e. as it related to the church.

In other words, the Reformers only recovered the priesthood of the believer (singluar). They reminded us that every Christian has individual and immediate access to God. As wonderful as that is, they did not recover the priesthood of all believers (collective plural). This is the blessed truth that every Christian is part of a clan that shares God's Word one with another. (It was the Anabaptists who recovered this practice. Regrettably, this recovery was one of the reasons why Protestant and Catholic swords were red with Anabaptist blood.)

While the Reformers opposed the pope and his religious hierarchy, they still held to the narrow view of ministry that they inherited. They believed that "ministry" was an institution that was closeted among the few who were "called" and "ordained". Thus the Reformers still affirmed the clergy-laity split. Only in rhetoric did they state that all believers were priests and ministers. In their practice they denied it. So after the smoke cleared from the Reformation, we ended up with the same thing that the Catholics gave us - a selective priesthood! (Pagan Christianity, pp 128-129)

It is verbotten among many of my brothers to speak ill of the Reformers but they were just men and made mistakes like any other men. Nowhere is this more true than in the doctrines of the church. The Reformation changed the message but it kept the method and that has crippled community and discipleship for five hundred years.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rightly evaluating Anabaptism

Great quote from Nathan Finn in his post last year: Why I Don’t Freak Out About the Anabaptists

Here’s a good historical axiom we should all heed: one should never define movements by their lunatic fringe or worst moments. Though the analogy is not perfect, it seems to me that those who dismiss all Anabaptists because of the Peasant’s Revolt or the Münster Rebellion are like those who dismiss Calvinism because Servetus was burned at the stake in Geneva. It just doesn’t hold water.

Those who dismiss Anabaptism and what it has to teach the church today by reflexively equating all Anabaptists with a few aberrant movements are either dishonest or too lazy to study the topic before commenting on it. Thanks to Nathan Finn for pointing this out! Again, my point is not that we should all seek to convert to Anabaptism but that instead we should learn from Anabaptism where it helps us to live more faithfully for Christ.

A lifetime of sermons

Great quote from a highly quotable book:

Let's be honest. There are scores of Christians who have been sermonized for decades, and they are still babes in Christ. We Christians are not transformed simply by hearing sermons week after week. We are transformed by regular encounters with the Lord Jesus Christ. (Pagan Christianity, pp 99-100)

Quite right. I can attest to this, having spent a few years both giving and receiving sermons and at the same time meeting many a senior saint who had spent a lifetime in conservative, Bible believin' and Bible preachin' churches that were spiritual infants. The solution is not more preaching or even better preaching. It is an atmosphere of every member ministry that takes seriously the priesthood of all believers.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Miracle of Mango!

Check out the latest post at the Haiti Orphan Project on the wonderful potential of mangoes to help Haiti recover from the devastation of the earthquake: Mango To The Rescue

While you are there, maybe you can make a donation? Maybe $10, maybe$20? I did and I am sure it will make a difference in the lives of children in the most impoverished nation in this hemisphere.


I like this fellow in the new picture in my blog header. He kind of reminds me of….me. I often feel like the black sheep in the church family. My Reformed brothers see me as a theological malcontent, someone who has squirrelly views on lots of stuff and asks uncomfortable questions on issues ranging from the church to the sword. My more organic church brothers look askance at my views on theology in areas like gender. I often feel like I don’t fit in with much of anyone. Plus the black sheep in the picture is just funny looking and makes me laugh and I can always use a little self-deprecating humor so I don’t start to take myself and my blogging too seriously.

I am continuing to tinker around with the blog layout. My goal is to make this blog easy to read on the one hand and a source for links to other important information without being cluttered on the other. I have removed more page elements that I don’t find useful just as I have removed stuff in the past that made the page load kind of slowly. I took the quotation marks out of the title because that looked weird in some links and went back to a more standardized blogger template that allows the use of quick links to Facebook and Twitter. So I hope you like it, if you have suggestion please let me know!

Just FYI

I am tinkering around with the blog layout, so it is going to look different as I play with the settings.

More thoughts on immigration

Richard Land writes for USA Today and seeks to find a middle ground that is palatable and in his words fair and just immigration reform from a Christian standpoint: God and immigration reform. I think his essay is a somewhat helpful foray into a thorny and emotionally charged topic. I am not sure that his ideas are complete (for example, the number one thing missing was punitive penalties including jail time for those employers who violate the law and hire undocumented workers) but at least it is a fairly calm, rational and helpful essay.

What doesn’t help are analogies like this one:

What if the federal government sent a letter to every American saying, "We have been monitoring your driving on the interstates by satellite and we have noted every time you exceeded the speed limit for the past 24 years, and we are now going to send you a speeding ticket retroactively for every incidence?" Most Americans would reject this as arbitrary and unfair.

Is this not what is being proposed by the hard-liners on immigration reform? "You broke the law, you must now leave."

What a horrible analogy. Actually what “hard-liners” are saying is: you broke the law and are still breaking the law. The lawbreaking of illegal aliens doesn’t end once they cross the border. The law is not broken merely by entering the United States but also by being here illegally.

There is a world of difference between a legal resident, duly licensed by his state to operate a motor vehicle, exceeding the posted speed limit and someone who is not a citizen of America who has entered this country illegally, lives here illegally and is working here illegally. Speeding on my way to work is a minor infraction. Being here illegally means that your very presence in this country is illegal, whether you are driving your car the speed limit or not. That analogy is an utter and embarrassing failure, not quite on par with those who try to link Mary and Joseph with illegal immigrants (since they were going to Bethlehem to be registered in obedience to the law, not sneaking into the country) but ridiculous nevertheless.

The “Christian” position on immigration is this: we should show compassion to all people as God has shown compassion to us. We are also to live under the law of the land. That is it. Any attempt to make a case for public policy that is the “Christian” position, either for amnesty or for deportation or anywhere in-between is to speak presumptuously on a matter that is not addressed in Scripture. Under the despotic rule of Rome, there was nary a public policy statement issued by Jesus other than “render unto Caesar”. There is no talk about immigration reform or defending traditional marriage or income redistribution or just war or the environment or opposing the “Ground Zero Mosque”. It cheapens the Scriptures when people try to use them to defend their public policy positions. Let God speak where He has spoken and do not speak presumptuously where He has not. God is quite capable of staking out His own positions and doesn’t really need our help.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

This was a hoot

I don't think it was intended to be funny, in fact I think he was dead serious, but a guy writing for The Resurgence ("John Catanzaro N.M.D. - Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine") is doing a series on preserving the preachers voice.

John needed to be in great health to have the energy in spirit, soul, and body to herald this world-changing event. The world was never the same after John proclaimed Jesus as the answer to all of the world's conflicts. He required nutritious and sustaining food for this athletically demanding message. Preacher, so do you!

No way would your pastor agree to eating bugs and honey as a main staple of his diet before preaching, unless there was some odd behavioral thing going on. Well, John didn't either. According to some New Testament experts, John's diet in the rough and arid terrain consisted of dates, date honey, and bread cakes that were made from the bean of the locust tree. This seems to make more sense. This diet would provide immediate energy to meet the exhausting task of preaching to the masses the message of the Messiah.

Interesting, because the Bible specifically says that John ate honey and locusts (Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6), not bread made from the bean of locust trees.

I would recommend that the first thing a preacher concerned about burning out his voice should do is to allow the rest of the men in the church to speak. If you don't do all of the speaking, you are in less danger of losing your voice and if you do lose your voice, the other men will carry on without you.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Best of the week entry 4

Comes from the Gospel Coalition and features several well known Christians answering the question What one thing would you change about seminary? My answer would be pretty different from the other answers but I did like what Al Mohler said:

But what one thing would I change? I would want to banish forever the idea that the mission of the theological seminary is to turn out newly minted professional ministers. Far too many Christians—and this includes many who should know better—think of the Christian ministry as a profession. Thus, they assume that a theological seminary is directly analogous to a medical school training physicians or a law school teaching those who will be attorneys. The idea that ministry is a profession is disastrous. The very idea of a profession is alien to the minister’s calling. Central to the concept of a profession is the idea that there is an identifiable body of knowledge and a profile of expertise that, once mastered, renders the candidate a professional. But, as the New Testament makes clear, there are persons who can master such knowledge and acquire the skill set and yet never be called nor qualified for the Christian ministry.

There is a body of knowledge to be mastered and a set of ministerial skills and practices to be developed, of course, but these do not a minister make. The ministry is a calling, and the most important qualifications for the Christian ministry are spiritual. We must aim for something far higher than the preparation of professionals, and our real challenge goes far beyond knowledge and skills.

In a similar and equally important vein, I would remind us all that seminaries, even at their very best and most faithful, can only do so much. The local church is the most important school for ministry and the faithful pastor is the crucial professor. The seminaries that serve best will be those who understand this.

While I question the whole seminary system and the accompanying clerical caste, and I mean the whole thing, if seminary were more like what Al Mohler says it should be it would be a more valuable system. I still disagree heartily with the idea of taking young men who want to minister to others, sending them away to get an expensive and extrabiblical training and then shipping them off somewhere to be a pastor to strangers. If I could change one thing about seminaries it would be to change the focus to training men right where they are, in local gatherings of the church, to minister in that location where they live and work.

Best of the week entry 3

Comes from National Review and addresses the rising cost of tuition: Why Does College Cost So Much? The author Stephen Spruiell addresses a recent study by a couple of college econ professors that makes lots of arguments for the rising cost of tuition, reasons that Stephen Spruiell and I agree are bunk. There is one overriding reason for the cost of tuition:

The authors don’t bother to mention the argument, even for the purpose of dismissing it, that the primary factor driving college-tuition inflation is actually ballooning federal tuition support: Tuition keeps going up because the federal government ensures that students can afford to pay it.

Give the man a cigar! Government intervention makes higher and higher tuition costs "affordable", at least in the sense that you can pay the bill now even if it takes you decades to pay off the loans. This is exactly why a government takeover of health care is invariable going to explode costs. The presence of an entity that can borrow and print money without restriction invariably causes inflationary pressure. In other words, if you think college or health care is expensive now, just wait until it is free!

We are facing a world where the cost of tuition keeps going up and the watering down of the value of a bachelor degree makes college mostly economically unjustifiable.

Best of the week entry 2

Comes from Alan Knox, Watch out for those that cause divisions. His post centers on Paul's admonition in Romans 16: 17-18 :

I think that many Christians today live by this warning, as long as they can define what Paul meant by “doctrine that you have been taught.”

In fact, many people come up with different levels of doctrine and use those levels to determine levels of fellowship. I don’t think this is what Paul had in mind here at all.

I guess my question is this: Given the importance of unity throughout Scripture and without naming particular doctrines (teachings), how do we decide which teachings to divide over?

We have few reasons in Scripture to divide from people so we have spent hundreds of years cooking up new reasons to not be in fellowship with people across the street. As I have said before, unity often means "agreeing with me" but that is not what Christians unity should be about. Christians should not be divided into ghettos based on race, economics or denominations.

Best of the week entry 1

Comes from Dustin Neeley writing at The Resurgence on Justification by Theology....

Our enemy has many weapons in his arsenal.

In ancient times, Satan deceived God's people to prize their knowledge of the Scriptures more than the One behind them. Today, he lures God's people to fall more in love with their theological system than their Savior—a particular danger for our tribe.

To be clear, I am for careful study, theological reflection, and sound doctrinal teaching throughout the church. But let me also caution us in defining ourselves by what we believe—not in a historically "confessional" sense, but in an I'm better than you because I'm Reformed and you're not sense.

I have often fallen into this trap. It is a danger in any group but it is frankly especially prevelant among hard-core Reformed armchair theologians.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Product Review: Simply Draw

I recently joined the product review team for Timberdoodle, a homeschool supply house that we really like and have purchased from in the past. As part of that team we have been trying out a new drawing program as part of our homeschooling that we have really enjoyed. The program is called Simply Draw and is put together by Bob Parsons.

I will admit up front I am not a really artsy kind of guy. Writing is my creative outlet but I have never been any good at art or music, so I was a little concerned about the Simply Draw materials because a lot of this stuff is completely foreign to me. I have to say though that I liked it a lot for homeschooling even though I am not an artist myself.

The cons:

- I like the videos that come with the program but we couldn't play them on our TV and had to watch them on my computer. I have a huge 23" monitor so it wasn't terrible but it was a little awkawrd to cluster around the computer

- Also on the videos. They are not in chronological order on the DVD so figuring out which one to watch is a little challenging. It would be great if the video titles included the lesson numbers and the lesson titles.

The pros:

- Again the videos. While the lessons are mostly parent led, the videos give a brief demonstration that really helps to cement what the lesson taught plus it helps people like my wife and I who have little talent at drawing to see what it is supposed to look like.

- A focus on fundamentals. Rather than leaping into drawing, Bob starts off with basics like holding the pencils properly, paper positioning, even good posture. I will admit to having no experience with other art programs but the way Bob builds it from the ground up makes it very user friendly for parents. I think it can be intimidating for parents without art aptitude to try to teach their kids.

- Price. Simply draw is only $37.50 and that gets you a 200 page lesson book and a DVD that includes video lessons plus pdf files of the material to print up. For a family of eight kids like ours, that is a great price point.

The product has been very helpful already. My boys were a bit resistant at first but they are at least trying and I can see some improvement already. My girls, especially the two older ones, already draw a lot including using an electronic tablet so I think this will be great for them to make sure they get some of the basics established before trying anything more complicated. My 13 year old who draws a ton has found the program very challenging to her and as someone who draws a lot she is being asked to think about fundamentals before she starts a new drawing. The other one who really likes it is my six year old, she is younger than the recommended age but has jumped in to the program.

Art is one of those areas that is tough for homeschoolers because so few of us (at least the people I know) have an aptitude for it to the point of being able to teach it. Simply Draw is a great way to let an expert teach your kids the fundamentals of drawing and we have found that it is useful for a pretty wide variety of ages, aptitudes and interest levels.

One of the many, many advantages of homeschooling is that we are not constrained y the school year and the budget of a school district. While public schools are cutting art all around the country, homeschooling families have an opportunity for some great art education right at home and for a reasonable price. For more art supplies for homeschooling you can check out Timberdoodle's Art Supply selection here!


Legal Disclosure:

As a member of Timberdoodle's Blogger Review Team I received a free copy of Simply Draw in exchange for a frank and unbiased review.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A tale of two religious building projects

On the one hand, we have a great deal of consternation over a proposed series of Islamic Centers in Tennessee.

Still, while the number of Muslims in Tennessee remains unclear, everyone agrees that it's rising, and fast. And as the number of worshippers goes up, so does their desire for more and larger places of worship.

But critics say the Muslims who now call Tennessee home are looking to expand their places of worship far beyond their need. What's more, they say, the organizations building the Islamic centers have provided no account for how they received the massive funding their projects require.

On the other hand, we have the massive and horribly expensive Ligonier Ministries building campaign which has a goal of $15,600,000 to expand their facilities, add an "academy" and enlarge their library (while at the same time sending out emails that the radio ministry is running a half million dollar deficit). To the best of my knowledge, no one is running stories in the national media about people protesting the construction of the Ligonier religious facilities (although I wish more Christians raised their eyebrows at the expense).

Is this a double-standard?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

If only all churches were like Saddleback

This is going to cause an uproar all over the blogosphere. Rick Warren tweeted this evening the following on Twitter:

I challenge any church in America to match the spiritual maturity, godliness & commitment of any 500 members of Saddleback


Muzzling God's people

I asked the question yesterday: is your default posture in worship passive or active? Here is what led to that question.

I've never met him but Bob Kauflin seems like a great guy, although he makes me a little jumpy with his outbursts during songs. As one of the leading figures among conservative Christians in the arena of "worship", Bob gets lots of questions from other worship leaders on how he leads the congregation. A recent post, How Does a Worship Leader Cue the Congregation? , raised some serious questions for me. In his response Bob gives a brief list of ways to cue the congregation to start singing, all of which are probably excellent from a pragmatic standpoint in the church culture we live in.

I found this blog post fascinating simply because it is necessary. Being a “worship leader” means that you have to somehow let the people in the pews know when they are permitted to participate because they will assume that they are not welcome to participate unless told otherwise. The default, if you will, is that gathering with the church is a passive activity for most Christians. In an hour long service, you might spend 12-15 minutes singing along with everyone else but the rest of the time you are sitting in your pew and watching the proceedings, neither expected nor permitted to speak.

Most Christians bring nothing to the “worship service” other than a warm body that sings along on occasion and a check for the offering plate. People feel like they have “worshipped” if they sing a few songs dictated by the worship leader and listen to a sermon in a holy place (i.e. a church building). Worse in my eyes is that people think they are fulfilling the purpose of the gathered church by attending a service and watching and listening mutely because that is what we have been taught. That passivity is a horrible disservice to the church and has been the status quo for five centuries (and a carryover from the 1000 years prior to that).

As I am reading through Pagan Christianity, it is confirming a lot of what I have come to believe, that the traditional gathering of the church is, by design, set up to muzzle the people of God. Rather than a place of mutual edification, encouragement and exhortation, it has become row upon row of mute Christians watching a performance. Almost everything we traditionally associate with the church has the effect of muzzling God’s people: the pew, the pulpit, the worship leader, the monologue sermon, the tightly controlled and scheduled service, even the way “churches” are set up have the effect of creating an atmosphere of passivity. Think about a traditional church with say 100 people in the pews. If halfway through the sermon, the preacher stopped and asked Joe in the fifth pew what he thought, everyone would freak out, especially Joe! Joe wouldn’t know what to say because the idea that he has anything to contribute to the meeting is completely foreign to our understanding of “church”. Someone who wanted to ask for clarification in the middle of a sermon would get the stink eye and be hushed. A Christian who wanted to offer a prayer but who was not on the schedule and had not been invited would not be able to do so.

The church as we see portrayed in the Scriptures is a place for Christians to come together to minister to and be ministered to. It is a place of participation and mutuality without hierarchy and where Christians can edify, pray, sing, teach, exhort and admonish one another. That phrase “one another” appears so often in Scripture but practically speaking we see the church as “one and all the others”. How have we perverted the very vehicle designed to provide “one anothering” and mutuality into a barrier to Christians ministering to one another?

Defectors from the faith

The kerfuffle over Anne Rice “leaving Christianity in the name of Christ” has been instructive. Not because of what she is doing but the way she did it (via Facebook) and the reasons, many of which are silly and inane but some of which have some substance. Even more interesting has been the reaction to her announcement. Some people in the church have used this as an occasion to rail against all manner of doctrinal ills. Others have used this as a call to normalize sins to avoid offending people. Some hopefully have used this as an opportunity to ask some hard questions about the church. Those outside of the church have used this as a license to denounce Christianity as a whole. One such writer, William Lobdell, had a featured editorial in the L.A. Times. Lobdell sees Rice’s defection as a sign of the impending doom of Christianity in his essay The Anne Rice defection: It's the tip of the religious iceberg. Lobdell is an interesting fellow, someone who was once a religion writer and decided to leave faith altogether based on what he saw (which seems to be the clergy abuse scandal in Rome and faith healers like Benny Hinn, neither of which is representative of Biblical Christianity). Lobdell makes this statement which kind of summarizes his whole argument.

American Christianity is not well, and there's evidence to indicate that its condition is more critical than most realize — or at least want to admit.

Is this writer correct? Is American Christianity in trouble?

Only if you think there is such a thing as American Christianity. There are Christians in America that are culturally shaped for good and ill (mostly ill) by living here but there is no such thing as American Christianity. If you think that the civic religion of America is “American Christianity”, well that is a different story because that is certainly in deep trouble. I am no expert on Anne Rice but she seems to have subscribed to what can only be described as a muddled faith and when you subscribe to a “pick and choose” pseudo-Christianity, eventually it becomes reasonable to drop the pretenses all together and embrace a self-exalting form of religion.

Mr. Lobdell demonstrates a woeful misunderstanding of Christianity in many places, lumping Roman Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism together and making statements like “On the bright side, Barna's surveys show evangelicals…do pledge far more money to charity, though 76% of them fail to give 10% of their income to the church as prescribed by their faith.”, as the Bible nowhere specifies 10% as the standard of giving for Christians. However, he does seem to understand something that many religious talking heads don’t:

How to explain the Grand Canyon-sized gap between principles outlined in the Gospels and the behavior of believers? Christians typically, and rather lamely, respond that shortcomings of the followers of Jesus are simply evidence of man's inherent sinfulness.

But if one adheres to the principle of Occam's razor — that the simplest explanation is the most likely — there is another, more unsettling conclusion: that many people who call themselves Christian don't really believe, deep down, in the tenets of their faith. In other words, their actions reveal their true beliefs.

That really cuts to the chase. All the handwringing over declining church attendance and “Christian kids leaving the faith” misses the point that an awful lot of Americans call themselves Christians without even the faintest hint that they understand or care to understand what that means.

Finally, I think he understands this reality:

A well-informed hunch says American Christians aren't ready for the kind of reformation that will realign their actions with biblical mandates. And in the meantime, the exodus from the church will continue.

There is a lot of talk about “reformation” in the church but most of that talk centers around keeping the traditional church in place with better doctrine. I am all for better doctrine and believe you me we need better doctrine in the church! But the church will not be reformed by better doctrine or more expository preaching or by appeals for $500,000 to prop up a radio ministry. Real reformation will couple doctrinal reformation with reformation of church life, reforming both creeds and deeds. I have yet to see much evidence that fountains of preaching leads to transformative lives.

Anne Rice “leaving” Christianity has nothing to do with actual Christianity but it is yet another sign of the death of American cultural Christianity. Good riddance.