Monday, June 28, 2010

Religious liberty and double standards

USA Today had a substantial story this morning about the move to ban burqas in France that is spreading around Europe as Europeans react to the burgeoning Muslim population by banning public expressions of religion (it is already illegal to wear large crosses and head scarves like the one my wife wears in public schools and certain other places in France). What concerns me (other than wondering when we will follow suit in America) is that there is a dangerous double-standard at work here.

When it comes to Islam we are all too willing to set aside our cherished beliefs about religious tolerance and freedom. Arguments that would never fly if applied to Christian groups are taken as perfectly fine when applied to Muslims. For example, what if France decided to ban the habit worn by nuns? It doesn’t cover their face but it does cover everything else. The traditional habit covers women up from head to toe, covering even the neck with only the face visible. A woman dressed as a nun could as easily smuggle explosives under the habit as a woman wearing a burqa. Why is the habit not a problem but the burqa is? It is not a matter of principle, it is a matter of prejudice. Some ask what about photo ID, how can that be accomplished? There are Christian groups like the Amish that forbid the taking of photographs and that has not led to an outbreak of Amish terrorism. There is an incredible double-standard here that is based not in fact nor in logic nor in consistency.

Case in point was the girl who ran away from her Muslim parents in Ohio and went to live with a Christian couple in Florida, Rifqa Berry. Christians were by and large very supportive of her running away but had the situation been reversed and if a girl with Christian parents had fled to a Muslim home, I can imagine that the majority of Christians would have been outraged and demanded the girl be returned to her parents, citing religious freedom and parental rights.

This is not really about women’s right or security or anything else noble sounding. It is a reaction to Islam. I understand in part why people have such a visceral reaction. Since 9/11/2001 terrorism carried out by Muslims in the name of Islam and the resulting two wars and various terror attacks since then have dominated the news. Having said that, Europe has created an atmosphere where very low birth rates and an increasingly entitled populace have led to the need to import cheap labor and that cheap labor is coming from predominately Muslim nations. The influx of adherents to Islam are changing the complexion of Europe but the only people to blame for that are Europeans themselves.

I think this whole effort is misguided. It flies in the face of the idea of a liberal democracy, singling out a specific and fairly rare religious practice. As the article points out, wearing burqas is not all that common in Europe:

The Muslim Executive of Belgium, an association of Muslims, estimates that between 30 and 100 women there wear a burqa. In France, fewer than 2,000 cover their faces, according to the Interior Ministry.

So what we have is an excessive and heavy-handed overreaction to a fairly uncommon phenomena. In other words, the solution outweighs the “problem”. As someone else quoted in the article points out, banning burqas is not going to lead to women not wearing them. They will continue to wear them and force the police to either ignore the law or arrest women or even worse it will mean that these women will simply not leave the house. Someone who is willing to wear a burqa is not going to just stop because a law says so. There are women who wear a burqa that shop in our local grocery store and they somehow manage to function in society without showing their faces.

Extremism in response to perceived extremism is a breeding ground for…even more extremism. I am no defender of Islam, a faith that leads people away from God into a false belief system that leads to eternal damnation. That is true of not just Islam but every religion not centered in faith in Jesus Christ alone, whether Islam or Buddhism or Mormonism. Nor am I a fan of the burqa. Having said that, I am also not a fan of governments telling people how to dress or how to practice their faith. It amazes me how many small government defenders of individual liberty will set those principles aside to cheer on a socialist government banning the burqa because it only impacts Muslims.

The Global Czar!

OK, not trying to be unkind but I saw this book recommended for me at Amazon and had to read the description. The book is Can America Survive?: 10 Prophetic Signs That We Are The Terminal Generation by John Hagee and the product description was just too funny to not pass on:

Carefully documented facts and powerful biblical teaching are the basis for the provocative claims and predictions outlined in this riveting book. A personal friend of Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, Hagee shares a frightening conversation he had with Netanyahu regarding the coalition of Russia and Iran in their nuclear efforts. Then in graphic detail Hagee describes the coming war in the Middle East, with Russia leading a massive Islamic army against Israel. While respectful of President Obama’s office, Hagee examines the administration’s implementation of Czars and the coming of a global Czar whom the Bible calls the Antichrist.

I know that is in the Bible somewhere, that the Antichrist will be a Federal appointee of a former Senator from Illinois who became President. Seriously, I thought Bill Clinton was the Antichrist. Or was it Hillary? Or Nancy Pelosi? Or was it James Carville (now that one I could believe)? Maybe we should worry more about proclaiming Christ to the world and caring for widows and orphans instead of trying to identify the Antichrist. I wonder what these folks will write about when Obama is out of office and the Russkies haven't invaded Israel yet? This is proof positive that the recommendation system at Amazon still needs lots of work.

What is not so funny is that a lot of people will read this and buy into it. On second thought, this is not funny at all.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Best of the week entry 5

Comes from Team Pyro and addresses the folks at BioLogos and their attempt to straddle the road by claiming to be faithful to Scripture while at the same time craving the acceptance of the unbelieving world. The wonderfully named post, Middle of the Road: R.I.P. Kermit, is biting and sarcastic but the point is very valid. The folks who deny the creation account in an ill-fated desire to bridge the alleged gap between science and Christianity don't seem to realize that there is not a middle position at all. The only compromise the unbelieving world will accept is total unbelief.

In short, I don't apologize for saying that the worldview BioLogos promotes is a challenge to—and by no means an affirmation of—the authentic, biblical, and historic Christian faith.

I'm certain that fact will become more and more obvious the more material BioLogos publishes. But for those still in doubt, here's a simple test: Apply their Genesis hermeneutic consistently to the bodily resurrection of Christ (or the deity of Christ, for that matter), and see what you come up with. Then ask how reasonable it is to accord the BioLogos worldview the right hand of Christian fellowship.

That is exactly right. I often disagree with the Pyro folks on certain issues but the hard truth is that if you apply the same "science first, Bible second" faulty standard to any of the miracles in the Bible that you do the Creation account you will find an emasculated Gospel that is nothing more than a quaint and irrelevant morality tale. If we want to explain away the Creation account we might as well chuck the flood, the Exodus, all of the miracles of the Old Testament, the virgin birth, all of the miracles of Christ and finally the Resurrection. If you get rid of all of that, what is the point? We don't need to be saved and we can't be saved by a Jesus who was just a regular guy.

Best of the week entry 4

Comes from Maël Disseau and is actually the culmination of an in-depth study of the idea of ordination. You should read the whole thing, starting here. It is pretty heady stuff but well worth reading...

Best of the week entry 3

Comes from Dave Black on Rhino Evangelism?

Someone has said that a Christian needs the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child, and the hide of a rhinoceros. The greatest danger of confrontational evangelism is that along with toughening our hides we harden our hearts. I urge all of us who share Jesus' love with others to let our Christ-like actions speak as loud as our words. You lose nothing by protecting the dignity of non-believers. In fact, you may even gain a friend -- and ultimately a brother or sister in Christ.

Certainly there are examples of “open air preaching”, “street preaching”, “spontaneous evangelism”, etc. in the Bible. That is a legitimate form of evangelism but so is evangelism that takes place in homes, at work or anywhere you have developed a relationship with another person who is receptive to hearing the Gospel. Open air preaching is not necessarily the best method nor is it the only method that fulfills the Biblical mandate to spread the Good News. I have to admit that while I have seen examples of "good" open air preaching, I have also heard some horror stories of street preaching gone awry.

Confronting people with the Gospel doesn't mean we have to be confrontational. The offense of the Gospel should not be lost by the offense of our behavior.

Best of the week entry 2

Comes from Dan at Ceruleam Sanctum. Dan asks the question, Is the church for believers only? and I think he is right on his conclusion.

The early Church model was to send believers out, beyond the doors of the assembly. They shared Christ out in the streets. When the lost outside responded to the message and became believers, they were brought into the church assembly proper.

Today, though, we have believers bringing the lost into the church assembly with the hopes that the church leaders will convert them.

We see the church as a place to go to hear the Gospel and worship, where evangelism is carried out by inviting people to church. The New Testament sees the gathering of the church as a place for edification, where believers are equipped for the work of ministry so that we can go to the world with the Gospel. This is not splitting hairs but a key to understanding the church.

Politics trumps the Gospel at Liberty

I don't normally blog on Saturday but I read this (thanks Tom Ascol) and had to point it out, especially to Christian parents who are facing college choices with their kids.

What in the world is going on at Liberty University? The Ergun Caner debacle. Inviting a mormon to speak at commencement. Now here is Jerry Falwell Jr., interviewed by the aforementioned mormon speaker Glenn Beck and in response to Glenn inquiring about the controversy swirling around his invitation to speak at a "Christian" university, Jerry Falwell Jr. says (emphasis added):

JERRY: If we don't hang together we'll hang separately, I mean, that's what my father believed when he formed Moral Majority, was an organization of Mormon's, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, people of no faith. And there are bigger issues now, we can argue about theology later after we save the country. And I really think that we really do need to stand together, it's a critical time in our nation's history, and it's -- I met with a banker this morning, and he was telling me how all the new regulations, how much they're going to cost his bank, and how he's going to have to pass those costs onto the consumers, and he's going to explain how the Congress is hiding how they're paying for this new banking reform bill by taking money out of the federal reserve, and just some scary things that public doesn't even know about. But it's a frightening time in our history, and we appreciate greatly what you're doing to bring all these different groups together, Peter Littleback was so impressive with his book about George Washington, Sacred Fire, and when I got back to Lynchburg after become on your show. And we left my dad's office just like it was when he passed away three years ago, and I didn't notice it before but he had Peter Littleback's book that he purchased three or four years ago open on his desk when he passed away. But you're bringing all these types of people together on your show every day, and it's creating a partnership between groups that may have never talked to each other otherwise, and I think nothing could be more important at this stage of our history

Seriously. The Gospel of Jesus Christ takes second place to promoting conservative politics. Having the right politics trumps denying the Gospel? That is not just a quote of context, that is his whole point in defending bringing a denier of Jesus Christ to address students graduating from a Christian school. Jerry Falwell Jr. is giving credibility to mormonism by linking arms with Glenn Beck and putting the Gospel aside in his Quixotic quest to "save the country".

If that is the mission of Liberty, to "save the country" by joining forces with people who deny Christ and keeping professors who boldly lie about their background and refuse to repent of it, they should stop pretending to be a Christian school concerned with the Gospel and start calling themselves a moralistic conservative worldview training center because that is all it is becoming.

I think this still applies, even at Liberty University. Any parent considering sending their kids to Liberty to get a "Christian education" should consider these words from Paul....

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty." (2Co 6:14-18)

Best of the week entry 1

Comes from Hunter Baker and takes on the ridiculous argument that if you are going to be pro-life, you must also support social welfare: The Trouble with the Social Welfare Modifier to the Pro-life Position. I am as pro-life as they come and I also support the church and individuals helping the poor but as Baker points out, abortion is evil on its face and opposing something as evil as abortion doesn't require a secondary requirement. Abortion is evil and should be opposed and that opposition is not predicated on support for social welfare, especially when considering the abysmal record of governmental efforts to alleviate poverty.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A great article you should read today

Manute Bol was a freakishly tall specimen, even in the NBA, standing 7’ 7” tall and looked like he weighed about 125 lbs. I remember watching him play back when I still watched the NBA and recall how odd he looked on the court but man it had to be hard to shoot over him. He died recently and most people remember him as a curious anomaly, a super tall guy in a league of tall guys. He is also remembered as a humanitarian but as an editorial today points out what drove Manute Bol was a radical Christian faith.

Bol reportedly gave most of his fortune, estimated at $6 million, to aid Sudanese refugees. As one twitter feed aptly put it: "Most NBA cats go broke on cars, jewelry & groupies. Manute Bol went broke building hospitals."

When his fortune dried up, Bol raised more money for charity by doing what most athletes would find humiliating: He turned himself into a humorous spectacle. Bol was hired, for example, as a horse jockey, hockey player and celebrity boxer. Some Americans simply found amusement in the absurdity of him on a horse or skates. And who could deny the comic potential of Bol boxing William "the Refrigerator" Perry, the 335-pound former defensive linemen of the Chicago Bears?

Bol agreed to be a clown. But he was not willing to be mocked for his own personal gain as so many reality-television stars are. Bol let himself be ridiculed on behalf of suffering strangers in the Sudan; he was a fool for Christ.

During his final years, Bol suffered more than mere mockery in the service of others. While he was doing relief work in the Sudan, he contracted a painful skin disease that ultimately contributed to his death.

I think that is amazing. Bol gave away everything, wealth unimaginable to most Sudanese folks and even most Americans. No one would have begrudged him living the good life in America with his wealth. Instead he used his wealth to help others, he turned the gift he had been given and used it to enrich others instead of himself. I don’t know a thing about Manute Bol’s theology but I know that the way he lived his life puts me to shame.

Finally this…

It is of little surprise, then, that the sort of radical Christianity exemplified by Bol is rarely understood by sports journalists. For all its interest in the intimate details of players' lives, the media has long been tone deaf to the way devout Christianity profoundly shapes some of them.

I would agree that it is of little surprise that this sort of radical Christianity (which is not so much radical as it is simply Biblical) is not understood by sports journalists. I am deeply troubled that it is not understood by very many Christians.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Non-resistance and situational ethics

This is not a classical example of situational ethics but the point is similar. The idea I want to explore here is the notion that the situation dictates the ethics of an action. In other words, for purposes of what I want to talk about, if turning the other cheek is Biblical and ethical but doing so in a particular situation leads to undesirable and even deadly consequences, one is not only permitted but perhaps morally obligated to set aside ethics in response to the situation. That would seem to be silly on its face but I see it employed all the time whenever someone brings up “turn the other cheek” as a binding principle on Christians.

Here is how the argument goes. You point out the clear teachings of Jesus and Paul as well as the martyring of so many early Christians. The response then becomes my old friend, the classic "yeah, but..." defense.

- what if someone were going to kill you?

- what if someone was going to kill an innocent person on the street?

- Or my favorite because it is supposed to be irrefutable, what if they were going to kill your kids, rape your wife or otherwise hurt your family? Isn't it the duty of every red blooded American to double-tap the scoundrel first?!

The point apparently is that non-violence is fine in theory or as something we read about as an ideal but we are free to set that aside if we find ourselves in a situation that justifies us doing so. Perhaps some circumstances are bad enough that they trump Scripture. I don’t think that refusing to return evil in response to evil is just a nice ideal.

Case in point. When the authorities were led by Judas Iscariot to arrest Jesus, Peter came to the defense of Jesus (an innocent man) and struck the off the ear of the high priest’s servant (John 18: 10-11). That seems perfectly understandable and justifiable. It didn’t please Jesus though. Instead Jesus rebuked Peter for his attempt to defend Jesus with these famous words that are a part of our culture: Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matthew 26:52). We all recognize what Jesus is saying and applaud. But if someone breaks into your house and threatens your wife, we would also applaud putting a bullet in his head as heroic and manly . Why the disconnect? I think it is because we treat Scripture differently than “real life” and in fact see no reason why we cannot let our cultural prejudices rule over Scripture. Our hermeneutic is far more cultural that we like to admit. We read something in Scripture that doesn’t jive with our cultural prejudices and rather than submitting to it, we assume it doesn’t mean what it says or we explain it away. They had all things in common? That doesn’t sound American to me, it must have been a unique situation. “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” Paul must mean each family bringing a dish to pass at the potluck. So on and so on.

Back to non-resistance. I find it disappointing that when confronted with this issue the response is so often to throw out a situation that is supposed to negate the principle instead of engaging with the text. That we who own nothing, not our property and not even our lives, should be so quick to insist on our right to commit violence to defend them strikes me as horribly and tragically inconsistent. The witness and example of Christians throughout the centuries who have chosen to give their own lives rather than kill another should serve as more than a quaint story we tell. Of course the greatest example is Christ Himself, who permitted Himself to be crucified when it is clear that with nothing more than a thought He could have freed Himself and turned His persecutors into dust. Shouldn't the forbearance and submission of Christ, when resistance was not only in His power but His prerogative, give those who clamor for violence in defense of self, of others and of property pause? I certainly think it should but that is a pretty lonely position.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Separation of church and school?

An interesting story this morning on legal fights over holding government school graduations in church buildings, Fight Over God and Gowns. The question of course becomes whether or not it is OK for a public entity to hold a ceremony in a sectarian facility. Is that a violation of the “separation of church and state”, as is being argued by the usual suspects (i.e. Barry Lynn from Americans United for Separation of Church and State and of course the ACLU)?

I have a different question. Should church buildings be used for secular events? My feelings about church buildings are well known but given that for the overwhelming majority of Christians the church building is the place we go to worship, should we permit that building to be used for secular purposes? Is an event where God is typically not honored except perhaps in the most general sense an appropriate event to hold in a church building?

On the one hand, most church buildings are very expensive to build and maintain. If the facilities can be rented out to help defray some of the cost, isn’t that a good thing? Plus it might create goodwill among the community and encourage people to come back on Sunday morning.

On the other hand, these sorts of events seem to blur the secular-sacred divide. The church-state issue is a smaller subset of the church-world issue. Using the church building for secular events might have the effect of reinforcing the civic religion of America where the church is just another part of the greater American society.

What do you think? Should church buildings be used for completely secular functions like government school graduations? What if it were your kid but instead of a comfortable, familiar church building the graduation was being held at a mosque?

This small topic brings to mind a bigger issue, one that is largely ignored because it is troublesome. That is the issue of the role and witness of the church in but apart from the world.

The biggest threat to Christianity in America is not missionaries being arrested in Dearborn or evolution being taught in public schools, it is apathy in the church and being excessively comfortable in society. The counter-cultural, even radical if may use an overused and misappropriated term, witness of the church in the world suffers greatly when the world warmly embraces the church and the church returns the favor by accepting the world’s approval. Perfect examples of this are the tax exemptions enjoyed by the church, by donors to the church and by clergy. I am all for people paying as little in taxes as possible but by accepting the tax exemptions, the church agrees to rules and regulations set forth by the world, i.e. the government. So my concern is with how we disentangle ourselves from the world rather than how can we be more accommodating to the world. I believe that most of the unbelieving world (and perhaps much of the believing world as well) sees the church as a particularly moralistic and hypocritical version of the Rotary Club instead of a set apart people of God who by deed and word present an unmistakable contrast to the world. The witness we have abandoned by capitulation is crucial to the Gospel proclamation and recovering that witness needs to be a top priority of the church.

So here is a thought/question

Is it possible to have your soteriology right but still not understand the Gospel?

Something I am thinking about. Is the Gospel summed up by a proper understanding of soteriology?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dearborn police defending the public against Bibles!

Nothing like being a touch excessive. Three guys standing around for three minutes handing out what amounts to tracts. Check out the number of Dearborn police officers that show up...

If you are keeping track at home, that is eight police officers who are not keeping an eye on the festival, they are arresting three guys for handing out the Gospel of John. I am sure in a festival in Metro Detroit there was nothing more urgent that required the attention of the police. I used to work about 5-10 minutes away from where this took place and I can assure you that there are more serious crimes taking place in Dearborn, Michigan that are more urgent that Christian missionaries evangelizing Muslims.

Welcome to our future. May God give us the courage to be bold when preaching the Gospel on the streets of America inevitably leads to arrest and persecution.

(For more information, click here)

Bible study at work

Starting this Thursday I am going to be facilitating a Bible study at work during the lunch hour. We are going to work through John from start to finish. I chose John because it is such a rich book for study and really establishes some key doctrines about the Gospel and the person of Christ (plus I have a fair number of resource materials on John that I can refer to).

It should be an interesting study and we have pretty decent interest given that there are only about 40 people who work for us. Several of my co-workers who are interested are Roman Catholic, one person used to be involved with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and several are either new Christians or not Christians at all. A few people don’t have a Bible so I encouraged them to check out John 1:1-18 online.

I know this enterprise is fraught with peril, primarily the peril of me trying to impose my position on others by force of will and clever arguments. It is very hard for me not to assume an authoritative position when in a mixed group especially when many people have less of a background in theology than me. Old habits die hard! My task here is to continually focus on Jesus Christ and not on me and what I want to teach. I am far more interested in drawing people into a conversation about Jesus than in delivering a series of lectures to my co-workers.

Two interesting articles on clergy from USA Today

I came across two insightful articles on protestant clergy in the USA Today. The first one, Protestant pastor on the job hunt? Good luck in this market deals with the huge number of clergy versus the number of churches out there (over 600,000 clergy to 338,000 churches).

According to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, there are more than 600,000 ministers in the United States but only 338,000 churches. Many of those are small churches that can't afford a full-time preacher. Among Presbyterians, there are four pastors looking for work for every one job opening.

I came across a couple of quotes that I wanted to pass on from the article. Here is the first quip (emphasis added):

The Rev. Mark Proctor of Columbia, Tenn., served at churches in Texas for about eight years before moving to the Nashville area in 2006 for his wife's work. He has interviewed at local churches but, so far, hasn't been offered a job.

For now, he consults with churches on building projects. But, says Proctor, "It's hard for any man who is called to preach to sit in the pew."

You can't see me but that last sentence made my eye twitch. I have a couple of thoughts on that sentiment but I will refrain and just say this. Brother, if you are called to preach (and if you are a Christian, you are) then preach. Don't wait for a job offer or a pulpit to stand behind. Preach the Word. There is nothing restricting you from doing so just because you aren't employed by a church. Later in the article something else I found interesting...

Bob Whitesel, associate professor of Christian ministry and missional leadership at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, says churches are under tremendous pressure to attract new members. That means they are looking for pastors who excel at attracting newcomers.

"Churches want to grow," he says. "And the pastors who get jobs are the ones who've shown they can grow churches."

That speaks for itself. The other article was a look at the increasing need for pastors to have a marketable skill so that they can supplement their income, More preachers need a 'day job', too.

Gilder said that in recent years, a number of pastors have decided to stay bivocational, even if their church grows large enough to hire a full-time pastor.

They believe that having financial independence allows them to preach what they want to preach in the pulpit, and allows them to stay out of church conflict.

If they disagree with the church's deacons or other members, the pastors can deal with the conflict without feeling that their job is threatened.

And some pastors say that staying in the work force helps them relate to their parishioners better.

"If someone comes in and says, 'My manager is killing me,' I can say, 'My manager is killing me, too. Let's pray together,'" said Brown, the Alabama pastor.

Been there and done that. I have sat in the lunch room and worked on my sermons for Sunday at lunch time. The harsh truth is that after a 4 year degree plus a M.Div. at great expense, you aren't super marketable in the job market. Paul had a skill, he could make tents (Acts 18:2-3), and because of that he was able to support himself and not be reliant on offerings (Acts 28: 30-31). Financial independence can make men bolder in preaching and we certainly can use more of that. Self-support should be the model for all men in the church wherever even remotely practical. I think I might have written on this topic a time or two before, but I can't recall...

I often find that you get a more realistic view of what is happening in the church from secular sources that don't try to sugar-coat the reality with religious terminology. It would be great if we could have these sorts of conversations without the defensiveness and acrimony they so often seem to cause.

Monday, June 21, 2010

OK, last one on this. I promise.

One more quip about the giant idol that burned in Southern Ohio. According to reports some people showed up at their services last Wednesday and were disruptive, calling the statue a "graven image" (which it is). I don't condone people shouting and causing a ruckus anymore than I condone a half million dollar idol in a pool. I did read a couple of interesting things in the article. First when the disruption started, "church security" got involved:

Ushry “stated that he and Andrew began to publicly protest during the sermon and were advised to leave by Church security,” the report says. As Ushry and Braden were being escorted out of the church, Ushry told police that a church member grabbed him, shoved him and threatened to beat him.

The accused church member told police that the pair were cursing and yelling during the service and “they continued to protest (while) he and other security members began to escort them out of the church, and at no time did he threaten or shove” Ushry or Braden, the police report says.

A co-pastor of the church, Lawrence Bishop, told police that he had asked church security guards to remove the two men because they were disruptive during the sermon.

What kind of church has a designated security force? That might be taking 1 Cor 14:40 a bit too far. I am pretty sure that "church security officer" is not one of the roles in the church. Perhaps this is what Paul meant to write:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." church security team to crack skulls if needed. (Rom 12:19 remix)

The second interesting thing was this quote:

Bishop says a man shouted out that he had some questions to ask her. She said he told him: “We don’t answer questions during service.”

Of course you can’t ask questions during the sermon! You can’t for the same reason you don’t talk during a movie or a play, it interrupts the performance. Church is not about us edifying one another, it is about me edifying you. Sit down, shut up and listen!

Sometimes you get the most honest statements from the kookiest sources.

A double standard?

An interesting incident happened over the weekend. Four Christians from a group called Acts 17 Apologetics were arrested, it sounds like without justification, for witnessing at an Arab-American festival in Dearborn. You can read the report from the folks involved here. As they were being arrested by the Dearborn police, the crowd was reportedly shouting "Allahu Akbar" in celebration.

I am not as concerned with arguing about the methodology of the Acts 17 group. Some may say that this sort of bold witnessing is counter-productive. It is not my cup of tea but it certainly looks a lot more like the evangelism we see in the book of Acts than a "come hear a sermon" evangelism, as does the reaction they received from the crowd and the authorities. What I am interested in is how little attention this is garnering from the media. Imagine a different scenario. Imagine a Christian festival with a small group of Muslim apologists handing out material and talking to Christians getting arrested and as they we being hauled off being surrounded by people shouting "Praise Jesus!". I think that would be all over the media.

Again, this should not be surprise to us. The Gospel is going to cause a visceral reaction from those who are unregenerate. If what you say to people causes them to shrug their shoulder, perhaps the problem is in the message. I am interested in seeing the video from this incident and after that comes out I plan on posting a more thorough discussion of the relative merits of the methods they use.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Best of the week entry 3

Comes from Frank Turk (he who hung the moniker "theological malcontent" on me in an offhanded comment) writing for Pyromaniacs regarding appreciating other Christians, even ones we disagree with, because they are Christians. From He Was Glad:

With Augustine, I’d object strongly to his view of his the eucharist; with Aquinas, I’d object to his Platonism aristotelianism (thx, Bobby) and his extra-biblical musings; Calvin wants to baptize babies, and ultimately advocates for Presbyterian ecclesiology; Jerome was, well, Jerome – a monastic with a high view of Mary and a low view of marriage; Wesley – Arminianism; Billy Sunday & Billy Graham & Chuck Colson – the manner and mode of Ecumenism, up to and including a tacit disregard for the still-evident distinctions between Protestants and Catholics.

But here’s the thing: I think we are compelled to call all of these men Christians -- and I’m not speaking in some broad sociological sense, either. Some of them may be bad Christians – doctrinally bumfuzzled or worse: doctrinally indifferent. Some of them may be misguided – as I think Aquinas was – for intellectual or sociological reasons. But they are Christians.

Great stuff from Frank. Not everyone is interested in other Christians if they are not Calvinists, some people even question whether a leader in the church who is not a Calvinist is even a Christian. Frank gets the tone right here, we should be glad for other Christians because they were saved by the same God who saved us, they were adopted by the same God who adopted us and we are going to spend eternity worshiping the same God. No point in waiting until we die to be glad for other Christians

Best of the week entry 2

Comes from an unusual source, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, writing for WorldNet Daily. His editorial, The contempt shown to parents of large families, takes on the contemptuous attitude shown to large families in our culture, sadly even among people who should know better.

Why is it that even many synagogues today are not children friendly? Why are people impressed that Jay Leno owns 20 motorcycles, but disgusted that some religious families choose to have 10 children?

Let's not finesse the response. We all know why. A world that has lost its innocence has trouble appreciating beings who are innocent. A world that has become selfish has soured to the idea of leading a life of selflessness. A world that has become grossly materialistic is turned off to the idea of more dependents who consume resources. And a world that mistakenly believes that freedom means a lack of responsibility is opposed to the idea of needy creatures who "tie you down."

They can go fly a kite.

By just looking at my children, I become more innocent. By loving them, I become more noble. By spending my money on them rather than myself, I find transcendence. And by being a father and liberating all of the love in my heart, my spirit soars free. I work hard to support a large family and I give up no pleasures in doing so because my children are my foremost pleasure.

It sounds like this is especially true among the Jewish population but there are plenty of Christians who look at large families with a mixture of curiosity and horror. If I had a nickel for everyone that said to me "Wow, that is great that you have a big family but I could never do that", I would be rich. It just doesn't make sense to me that God's people limit His blessing of children because of the perception that the blessing of children is just too expensive and hard.

Best of the week entry 1

Comes from Anne Hendershott writing for the Wall Street Journal. Her editorial Another Catholic University Fails A Litmus Test looks at the sad story of Marquette University making a hasty decision to rescind the position of Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences after an uproar over her positions:

The specific nature of the job at issue—as dean Ms. O'Brien would have been charged with helping to implement Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II's 1990 apostolic constitution intended to revitalize Catholic higher education—may have driven Marquette to back off this particular appointment. But the real story here is that in the upside-down world of Catholic higher education, there is more status in hiring a sexuality scholar who denigrates Catholic teachings on sexuality and marriage than in choosing a serious scholar who might actually support Catholic teachings.

Of the three finalists for the position, Ms. O'Brien was the first choice, even though her publication record was minimal in comparison with the others. Though all three had led academic departments, the two male candidates also had grant-writing success and prestigious publication records.

Ms. O'Brien published articles such as "How Big is your God? Queer Christian Social Movements." One of the male finalists wrote a book on the French Revolution that won an award from the American Historical Association. Ms. O'Brien published a "gender switching" article describing online homoerotic behavior entitled "Changing the Subject." One of the other finalists received funding for 17 major research grants and listed dozens of publications on his 19-page vita.

Why would a Catholic school even want to bring in someone who rejects Catholic teaching? This is not restricted to Catholic schools. How many evangelical schools have gone the same way? Many top universities in America used to be confessionally Christian schools but now are entirely secular. Many (perhaps all?) Ivy League schools started out with a mission that was at least church focused but now flaunt their secular identity and do everything they can to reject any vestige of religion.

There is just something seductive about higher education, about surrounding yourself with scholars with tweed jackets and elbow patches that seems seductive. The more separate from the church, i.e. regular Christians without PhD’s, an institution gets, the more it seems to stray away from its roots. Perhaps it is the seduction of being acceptable to the broader secular scholarly world, the desire to fit in with academic peers (who will never accept as a serious scholar a person of serious faith). Perhaps it is the loosening of standards, fudging doctrinal standards to bring in “scholars” who are appealing for whatever reason even if they are completely unacceptable in terms of faith and morals. Whether it is the seemingly inexorable decline of institutions of higher learning into liberalism or Liberty University turning a blind eye to malfeasance in order to retain a rock star, it seems difficult to maintain fealty to the Gospel while striving for academic achievement. Is that perhaps because academic achievement runs contrary to the life of a disciple? Are the two incompatible?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Faith, religion, control, power, money

There is ample evidence throughout history that when you have people with strong faith under the influence of people with control you get a combustible mix. The men who flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not driven by cold calculations or profit motives. They were driven by faith. A false faith to be sure but a faith nonetheless. The Nazi guards who callously murdered Jews by the millions were men of faith, faith in a Fuhrer and in a nation that went beyond mere patriotism into a quasi-religious fervor. Even the Christian faith is susceptible to the temptations of power when intermixed with the world and with money. Callous rulers long ago figured out that people could be manipulated with religion and they have exploited this tendency ever since by co-opting churches and faith movements. What else explains doctrinal differences like baptism turning into Christians being burned at the stake by the state with the tacit or overt approval of other Christians?

The only remedy for the tendency to abuse faith is to keep oneself unstained from the world and what the world cherishes. So much mischief in the church and the world is attributable to the love of money and power. Being entangled with authority, power, money, control creates temptations to abuse that are unhealthy and unnecessary. The focal point of the church is the exact opposite of what the world considers important and the encroachment of the world is at the heart of almost every problem we have in the church. What the world reviles, Christ loves. What Christ hates, the world embraces. As I have said over and over, mixing the world into the church doesn’t improve the world; instead it infects and weakens the church. The church should go to the world with the message of Christ, not invite the world into the church to define what is important. Nowhere is this truer than with money which is the source of some of the worst behavior by Christians within the church.

Faith is the most powerful human attribute and the one that is perhaps the most apt for misuse. Everyone has faith although not many people have that faith directed at the proper recipient. Little wonder that Jesus emphasized service, humility, sacrifice, meekness and powerlessness in His ministry. The opposite is also true. Jesus condemned in the harshest terms expressions of religion especially when that religion was coupled with power. Paul faced down the powerful of his day and cherished caring for the poor with the fruit of his labor (Acts 20: 33-35). Similarly James wrote that pure religion is caring for widows and orphans as well as keeping oneself unstained from the world (James 1: 27). That is rarely how religion is manifested. The history of mankind is replete with abuses of power in the name of religion and the name of Christ has all too often been linked with these abuses in spite of what He taught.

We live today with the vestiges of the worst abuser of the power of religion, Roman Catholicism. The structures put in place by Rome still manifest themselves in so many ways and places in the evangelical church. Not merely in “mainline”, “high church” denominations but also in Baptist groups, Reformed churches and even in independent non-denominational churches. When you step back from all of the details of Roman Catholicism that we get caught up in like Mariolatry and the Mass and the celibate priesthood and look at what the overall picture is, you will see that it is a picture of control. Rome controlled and still controls people by controlling their access to God. Want forgiveness for your sins? You need a Roman priest to hear your confession. Do you desire communion with Christ? You have to come and partake of the Eucharist under the authority of the Roman priesthood. Want your kids to go to heaven? They must be baptized into the Roman church by a Roman priest. Everything about Rome from birth (baptism) to death (Last Rites) is controlled and dispensed by the church organization in a top-down hierarchy. That control wielded by Rome ruled not just the church but also the state for centuries in Europe and around the world in an unholy alliance. In spite of this, even those who wave the banner of Reformation and decry Rome and her theology in the strongest possible terms still cling stubbornly, almost desperately, to the very structures that enabled Roman doctrinal abuses to gain traction and become so powerful. A church that does not focus on the power and authority of the priesthood class is not going to develop doctrines like transubstantiation.

All of the above is why I get so nervous when people start describing the church in terms of authority, submission and discipline. It is also why I spend so much time raising questions about the church and poking at sacred cows. It is common to hear people say that we need to submit to the authority of a local church but what about the local church submitting to each other? The gathering of the church was not designed as a means to control people so that they act like Christians, it is a place for Christians to come together to break bread, to live in community, to love and be loved by one another, to exhort, to be equipped for the work of ministry, to encourage and when needed rebuke one another. Visions of the church that focus on authority and hierarchy are in vogue and defenders of that vision are myriad. Discipline and leadership are certainly an aspect of the church but they ought not be seen as the focus of the church. We have an unhealthy preoccupation with authority in the church that can easily tip over into control and power and that is at the very heart of the sort of religion that Jesus hates. If the first attribute you think of when you think about the church is its authority over people, your image of the church is not based in Scripture.

The church of Jesus Christ has its genesis in the submission of Christ to the cross, of Him condescending to take on a tabernacle of flesh, of emptying Himself for the sake of poor, miserable sinners. It has for its example the God of the universe washing the feet of His disciples, of a King with no place to lay His head, of God coming in the flesh as a helpless infant born of a peasant. We as His people exhibit strength in our weakness, claim foolishness as our source of wisdom and find our greatest power in powerlessness. The greatest among us are not the scholars or the mighty orators but instead are the servants (Matthew 20:25-28). Everything about the church of Christ and the Gospel of Christ is counter-intuitive to the world and its love of control. There is no place for those who seek control or hunger for power in His church.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


I am really struggling to even get out of the gate with The Jesus Manifesto. I am trying to read it but it just is not capturing my attention at all and I am not even done with the first chapter.

What I have read thus far in the intro and first chapter can be described as fluffy. Lots of random, disjointed thoughts and quotes strung together doesn't make for good reading.

I am going to try to read more of it this weekend when I can focus on it because I feel obligated to read it since I got a review copy but it hasn't been promising so far. I am hoping that the later chapters get meatier and less rah-rah. I will admit that if it doesn't get better soon I am going to set it aside and focus on a different book. The only upside is that it is easy reading so I should be able to blow through it given a little time.

When you are as holy as us, then you can criticize us!

Ok, I wasn't going to say anything else about the giant idol that burned in Southern Ohio but then I read this quote from Solid Rock church pastorette, um "co-pastor" Darlene Bishop regarding those who have the temerity to question the vast sums of money spent and about to be spent on their idol:

When people question the wisdom of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on such a structure, Bishop replies that the statute has drawn attention to Jesus, stimulated discussion about Jesus and attracted visitors to the church. Half the church's visitors who filled out comment cards acknowledge learning about the church by noticing the Jesus statue, Bishop said.

The church gives millions of dollars per year to charitable causes, and operates an inner-city-youth outreach program, Bishop said - and she sees the Jesus statue as just another tool to help reach people.

She fires back at those who criticize a large sum being spent on a statue: "I would like to ask them, 'How much money have you donated to charity this year?'...When they've done as much as Solid Rock, then they can criticize us."


Christians and animals

So earlier this week, Oliver Thomas wrote an editorial for USA Today What’s the godly way to treat animals? . It is an interesting topic. I liken it to the question of the environment which tends to polarize people into tree-hugging or “I gots me doe-myn-yun over the earth and I will pollute it as I please” camps. There is an appropriate and Scripturally valid position on the environment as well as caring for animals. I just don’t think Mr. Thomas presents an even vaguely Scriptural argument and even worse misses the bigger question that this issue raises.

(Full disclosure. We have a number of pets in our home. I come from a pet family where we treated our pets as members of the family. We still laugh about the quirky cat Ramona that we had when I was a kid who would only eat raw hamburger and only from one particular store. Having said that I have zero use for animal rights zealots. I find those who cannot distinguish between the value of a human life and the value of an animal life to be insufferable. If we can save the life of one child by conducting experiments on 1000 dogs, I say go for it.)

Here is where the argument goes astray, when Mr. Thomas tries to get cutesy with the text and in doing so discounts his entire essay. Exhibit A:

One can't help but wonder what Jesus would think of all this. Certainly, he was not a vegetarian. Jesus appears to have eaten fish routinely and once spoke of killing a fatted calf. But Jesus was not cruel. He came from a religious tradition that still has rituals and practices associated with animal slaughter that reflect a pervasive respect for all God's creatures. Jesus described himself as the "good shepherd" — one who lays down his life for the sheep. Does that sound like a factory farmer to you?

Really. The only cruelty we should be talking about in that paragraph is cruel and unusual punishment of the text. There are few abuses of text worse than trying to make a completely unrelated point, one that is unsupported anywhere in Scripture, by plucking a sentence or phrase from the text and using it to justify your position. I am surprised he didn’t quote Jesus telling Peter “Feed my sheep” as a justification for buying quality pet food.

If you really want to ask the question about what Jesus thinks on this topic, you better be prepared for a hard answer. Americans own something on the order of 150,000,000+ dogs and cats by some estimates and who knows how many fish, hamsters, birds, bunnies, ferrets, spiders, snakes, hedgehogs, etc. All of those animals cost a boatload of money to own and feed. We own 4 cats and a myriad of fish and they are expensive just to maintain. When I think about how much we as a family spend on pets and then think about actual people in need, it bothers me. A lot. When the cats are out of food, I will make a special trip to the store to buy a bag of cat food but what about the people in my own community who are hungry? Even in our town, with a Porsche dealership and where the sight of a Ferrari tooling down the road in front of my office is not that unusual, there are people who are in need. When it comes to animals, I think Jesus would be far more concerned with how much we spend on them than with how they are treated. We spend so much of our money and time on things that strictly give us pleasure, whether that is cable TV or horses or vacations, instead of on those things we should focus on like spreading the Gospel, caring for widows and orphans, feeding the poor. So before we start wringing our hands over the plight of animals we need to be taking better care of people.

God gave mankind dominion over the earth and everything on it, including the animals. He gave those animals to be used. Not abused necessarily but used. Everyone remembers that Noah took two of each animal into the ark. It makes for a cute picture for kids of mommy and daddy animals climbing aboard the ark, beckoned in by a smiling and congenial Noah. But Noah wasn’t commanded to take just a pair of each. Some animals he took more of:

Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. (Gen 7: 1-3)

So why did Noah take more of those beasts? Not because they were his favorites. They had a purpose.

So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him. Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark. Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. (Gen 8: 18-20)

He took extra clean animals so he could sacrifice them on an altar. That wasn’t the end of it. The temple was a slaughterhouse of sacrifices: birds, goats, calves, sheep. We think of the temple as some beautiful edifice but it was frequently full of the sound of beasts being slaughtered. If you have ever been in a slaughter house while animals are being killed, the noise and the smell are…memorable. I can’t imagine the clamor in the temple when animals were being brought in for the sacrifices. What was important in the temple was that the animals were killed and disposed of in the prescribed way, not that they were treated humanely. I think far too many people have never seen an animal slaughtered and it makes it easier to not think too hard about what went on in the temple. The bigger issue we should address is not cruelty to animals but callous indifference to people. I would argue that we actually care too much about animals, not too little.

At the proverbial end of the day, there is no justification for wanton cruelty to animals. I am not a big fan of chaining dogs outside. I do not permit my kids to treat our pets cruelly. I am also fully aware of where my meat comes from and what had to happen to get it from a steer in a feedlot to a burger on my plate. I am likewise painfully aware that our priority is not on spaying pets but on preaching Christ and Him crucified. How easy it is to get caught up in ancillary topics that distract us from the mission we are called to carry out. I am quite certain that if first century Christians saw the way we fawn over animals, treating them like de facto members of our family, taking them in for expensive vet care when people go without medical treatment, building enormous stores full of stuff for pets, they would be both confused and disturbed. Mr. Thomas falls into the common trap of taking contemporary mores and trying to justify them from Scripture.

More globally this gets at a recurring question. Should Christians even have pets with all of their attendant expenses? We are responsible for every penny we spend and good stewardship goes far beyond saving for retirement and putting a check in the plate on Sunday. I can see where this can become tend legalism but I also think that we are way overdue a serious reevaluation of our spending habits and how we view money. The love of money is a toxin in the Body of Christ and it poisons so much of our witness. I think everyone knows it but we are unwilling to tackle the issue because for Americans our money is such a private matter. Our attitude is that it is my money and if I want to spend it on a purebred dog and tens of thousands of dollars in food, doggie toys and vet bills that is my right. Pets are just one more area where our affections and our expenditures are grossly out of whack with where our priorities should be. That is the conversation we should be having instead of worrying about animal welfare.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


In the name of all that is good and right, WHY!?!?!?!?!


Just thinkin’ out loud here, this is totally random and disjointed.

What is discernment? How do we employ it and how do we recognize it in others?

Discernment is appealed to on a regular basis, often when someone crosses a doctrinal line. In other words, I disagree with you and my position is so patently obvious from Scripture that you must be lacking in discernment. There are even some people who claim to have “discernment ministries” which basically amounts to a “ministry” dedicated to sniffing around and finding people who are wrong about something and then telling the world how wrong they are. Those folks generally are self-important and self-appointed. I occasionally post about someone doing or saying something silly but I try not to make a career out of it.

It doesn’t take much to go from being considered a “discerning” Christian to a Christian who lacks discernment. A perfect example is the tempest in a teapot over John Piper inviting Rick Warren to speak at the Desiring God conference. Many people are pleading for discernment or accusing Piper of lacking discernment. Many of those same people own his books and listen to his sermons and attend conferences where he is speaking. Unless someone is an unbeliever, I don’t see any warrant to treat them as persona non grata in the Body. There are lots of Christians I disagree with about lots of stuff, from Arminians to dispensationalists to defenders of the traditional church to paedobaptists. That doesn’t mean I see inviting them to speak as somehow compromising the Gospel.

So I guess being discerning doesn’t mean covering your ears and yelling “La, la, la I cannot hear you” when someone is speaking without being properly vetted by the Reformed doctrinal police. I have certainly learned an awful lot from the T4G guys and other Reformed teachers. I have also been learning that a) they are not right on every issue (i.e. the church) and b) I have also learned a lot from men that I disagree with on lots of stuff. Being discerning doesn’t mean agreeing with certain teachers or affirming this creed or that confession.

There are a number of places that speak of being discerning or employing discernment in the New Testament. Here are a couple that I found especially pertinent:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5: 11-14)

So here we see that we (i.e. Christians, more on that in a second) have “powers of discernment” that can be honed by practice with the goal being the ability to distinguish good from evil. So someone who is mature and discerning can tell the difference between good and evil but this requires training and doing so constantly, i.e. with lack of training our discernment can grow weak. Interesting. I would point out that this is consistent with us all attaining a maturity of faith (Ephesians 4: 13-16), so discernment is not the sole province of the theologians and the academy but is something that should be seen in all believers. Getting back to my point about discernment being solely a “Christian thing”

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2: 12-16)

Wow. We have the mind of Christ. Pretty sobering stuff. This kind of reminds me of the “my flock”/”not my flock” distinction John quotes Christ as saying in John 10. I think that what Paul is saying is that, at least as it applies to the things of God, people who are unbelievers cannot be discerning. They don’t understand the mind of Christ and cannot discern the things that are spiritual because they don’t have the Spirit. Further proof that we cannot force compliance to holiness on the part of unbelievers. Here is another one….

For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil 1: 8-11)

Here Paul is linking love, knowledge and discernment. I think this is important. Love seems to me to be preeminent, the first thing that Paul is praying for, but that love must be accompanied by knowledge and discernment. Why is this important? It is clear that love can be misdirected here. Not speaking specifically of “romantic love”, although it is true, but rather love as in affection. Where do your affections lie? If the answer is centered in anything other than Christ Jesus, there is a problem. Even good affections can go wrong if they move into the place that is reserved for Christ and love of Christ is more than a fuzzy feeling. Dare I say that some people love some good things (theology, the church, their family) more than Christ and that is not a sign of discernment but a lack thereof.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12: 1-2)

Ah. So now we see that discernment is something that is distinguished from the world and hampered by a focus on the world. Could this perhaps mean that worldly scholasticism is not only not aiding discernment but in fact hampering it? This also seems to say that discernment is more than knowledge. Discernment has an aspect of knowledge but it is not merely knowledge. Being very knowledgeable doesn’t make one discerning. Some of the most knowledgeable people out there are some of the least discerning. Conversely, being willfully ignorant exhibits a lack of discernment. So in other words, knowledge does not equal discernment but ignorance negates even the possibility of discernment. So as I said, discernment is more than knowledge but not less than it either. Discernment employs knowledge that is gained through practice framed by love and empowered by the Spirit to enable the Christian to distinguish between good and evil. Is that a good definition?

What say you? What is discernment? What does it mean to be discerning and what does it mean to say someone lacks discernment? How would you define “discernment” or what does a discerning Christian look like?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The most talked about story of the day

What a sad commentary that the story of the giant fiberglass idol, er statue, that supposedly depicts Jesus burned down after a lightning strike is all over the news today. I saw this monstrosity and shook my head every time I went by when we lived in Cincinnati. What an enormous waste of money and effort and you can be sure it will be rebuilt at great expense and with great fanfare. They should leave the charred arms of the idol as they are as a monument to the pride and foolishness of man.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Most inexplicable tweet ever?

I saw this on a different blog and had to go read it again. It is a tweet from Burk Parsons, on staff at St. Andrews in Florida, from last night ...
The differences among us that divide us denominationally are precisely what make us a strong united front in one Gospel
I don't get how in the world that makes the slightest sense. So the witness we present to the world is of a fractured Christianity divided into competing denominations, each fighting and feuding with one another over secondary doctrines, and that is what makes us a "strong united front in one Gospel"? Denominational differences led to the martyring of Anabaptists in the Reformation. They have led to innumerable schisms in the church. These differences that divide us denominationally are the greatest barrier to Christian fellowship and community, perhaps even the greatest drag up the proclamation of the Gospel, and as such they rise to the level of sinful disunity in the Body of Christ.

We will never be a strong, united witness for the Gospel when we describe the group we gather with as "our church" to the exclusion of all other groups. Agreeing to get together on a neutral site or at the occasional theology conference is not a unity that is going to proclaim a united front. Differences in doctrine are worth having discussions about, even disagreements about, but they cannot supplant the Gospel and lead to division in the Body. Division is something we should repent of and weep over, not celebrate with false praise.

Up Next: The Jesus Manifesto

Next on the reading list is The Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ, written by Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet. I don't know a thing about Leonard Sweet but Frank Viola has caused quite a stir over the past few years with Pagan Christianity which has many defenders of the traditional church frothing at the mouth. I received a free advanced review copy from Thomas Nelson so I am going to move this book to the top of the pile to read. I am interested in what Sweet and Viola have to say but I am also a little cautious. Anytime a book promotes itself as being groundbreaking I get concerned. I read the introduction and it was kind of a litany of over the top exclamations, one after another. I am hoping the body of the book is a little less frenetic. Anyway, that is what I am reading next if anyone cares, expect some commentary and quotes along the way and of course a review of The Jesus Manifesto at the end.

Reformed for the sake of being Reformed

Excellent thoughts from Tim Challies on the temptation to see “Reformed” as a banner or a flag we wave around, A Parody of Ourselves. I liked this a lot:

I love the word Reformed; it has a long and noble heritage. And yet somehow it seems that Reformed has transitioned from a kind of theological short-hand, a useful way of describing a lot of theology in just one word, and has instead become an identity, a flag which I run up a flagpole as a means of self-identification. Reformed used to be a terse and convenient short-hand to express “I believe in the doctrines of grace, I believe in God’s total sovereignty, I adhere to certain creeds and confessions, and so on.” In one word we could summarize an entire theological position. Today, though, I fear that it is associated far more with names and personalities than theology. Reformed means “I listen to this pastor, I read these books, I go to these conferences.” But my theology may be vastly different from the Reformed guy beside me. It is an identity, not a theology, a connection to a group, not a belief. It’s a pass card, credentials allowing admittance into a community, an experience. And as such it generates swag, it generates junk, it generates all of that stuff like talking vegetables, Bible superheroes and Bible-zines.

I don’t agree with some of Tim’s conclusions but I think he is on the right track. Having said that, Reformed self-flagellation is a common pastime. The blogosphere is full of Reformed mea culpas. It is necessary because far too often the caricatures of Reformed believers are dead on. We love to wave the flag of “Reformed” as we battle the unwashed hordes of ignorant Arminians. We especially love to fight with one another over who really is or is not Reformed. One misstep, one questionable quote or association and you find yourself out of the club (Exhibit A: John Piper, the man perhaps most responsible for introducing the doctrines of grace to the wider church). We see Paul first as a brilliant theologian and scholar when he saw himself as chiefly a sinner and a servant. We are far more likely to start a sentence with “Calvin wrote” or “Edwards said” than we are to start a sentence with “Jesus taught”.

Good stuff, you should check it out.

Book Review: Total Church

Books like Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community offer a glimmer of hope among the steady decline of Western Christianity. Rather than clinging to the traditions of the last few centuries, Christians around the world are asking the hard questions and adapting to life outside of the comfortable societal majority. Written by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church is one of the best and most important books on the church written in the last few years. It seems pretty obvious from even a cursory reading that the authors are Biblically orthodox, men who cherish and revere the Word of God. They also have some important questions to answer regarding how the church functions.

The key to the entire book is the idea of Gospel witness and Gospel community. There can be no genuine Christian community unless the Gospel word is the central authority, a community where the Bible is taught as authoritative. The community of believers is likewise vital to living out the Gospel witness to the world. The key is that a Gospel community is more than a couple of weekly meetings where Christians come from all around to pick up their religious fix for the week and then go about their lives. It is a whole life commitment. Scattered throughout the book are examples of people involved in a ministry called The Crowded House and they are a mix bag of people who minister in various ways. None of them as I recall are professional ministers but many of them have made substantial lifestyle changes to be able to spend more time in ministry (several work at secular jobs part-time so they can minister more often). The disconnect between Gospel and community is crippling the church and Her witness and urgently needs to be addressed.

I also appreciated the perspective. This is the second book in a row I have read on the church written by Christians in the U.K. and it strikes me as a “sneak peek” of what we might see happening here in the near future. How do we minister in America when Christianity is no longer the default, when it is not nearly as cultural accepted, when being a Christian is not assumed? This book answers some of those questions.

The chapter titled Success was worth the price of the book by itself and really gets at the core of what is wrong with so much of the Western church. When I read the section regarding Ephesians 4: 11-16 calling on leaders to equip others for ministry, I almost leapt out of my chair to cheer! Elsewhere in the chapter they dealt with the erroneous notions of success in the church. We equate large congregations with success. Growth is internal, big churches get bigger. Total Church suggests that the better model is growth through replication, instead of building bigger and bigger churches the church grows by planting more churches. A lot of what appears in this chapter is going to rub people the wrong way because it bumps up against their traditions but perhaps it will also shake some people up.

Chester and Timmis get it when it comes to ministry. Not perfectly for sure but there was very little I had a problem with in the book and the book is sitting next to my computer full of underlining and dog-eared pages. My only concern is in application, because it seems that we have a long way to go before we can get to this model of ministry. I do think that the collapse of institutional Christianity has a silver lining in that as the forms and structures that stifle ministry collapse it will free Christians up to form Gospel centered communities that will be a witness to the world. It might just be that the paradigm shift we are seeing in Western Christianity, lamented by so many, is actually going to the be the healthiest thing to happen to the church since the Reformation.


Very interesting stuff on education from the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, A School Prays for Help. As schools struggle with funding, some are looking outside of the normal funding process and obtaining “sponsors” ranging from regular corporations who sponsor them financially to local churches that “adopt” a school. From the article:

LAKELAND, Fla.—When his budget for pencils, paper, and other essential supplies was cut by a third this school year, the principal of Combee Elementary School worried children would suffer.

Then, a local church stepped in and "adopted" the school. The First Baptist Church at the Mall stocked a resource room with $5,000 worth of supplies. It now caters spaghetti dinners at evening school events, buys sneakers for poor students, and sends in math and English tutors.

The principal is delighted. So are church pastors. "We have inroads into public schools that we had not had before," says Pastor Dave McClamma. "By befriending the students, we have the opportunity to visit homes to talk to parents about Jesus Christ."

Short on money for everything from math workbooks to microscope slides, public schools across the nation are seeking corporate and charitable sponsors, promising them marketing opportunities and access to students in exchange for desperately needed donations.

Like I said, very interesting (especially the name of the church, First Baptist Church at the Mall?). Some people are not happy that schools are exposing kids to even more corporate marketing, others predictably have concerns about church-state issues. I understand those. If my kids were at a public school and the local mormon church “adopted” the school and thereby gained access to my kids, that would concern me. What about a muslim mosque? Could we see a time where this school is sponsored by the big Baptist church in town, that school is sponsored by the Methodist church and the one over there by the Roman Catholic diocese?

What do you think about this? I guess I would rather that Christians look at public schools as a place to witness to, somewhere we can seek to influence rather than sending kids from Christian homes there to be influenced by the schools. I do think this is a sign of the world we are living in. Schools can no longer expect to receive enormous amounts of funding with few questions asked. The money just is not there anymore. Schools are going to have to look for new sources of funding and whoever has the money is going to dictate terms. The days of seeing advertisements on the walls in public schools may not be far away.

“This pep rally brought to you by Kellogg’s. Root for our team, they’re GR-R-REAT!”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ouch, that stings a little

An especially sharp " we live it" from Alan Knox. This is so painfully true that isn't funny.

Greet I will send a separate letter to Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them, since I know that your church and their church don’t fellowship together. (Romans 16:15 re-mix)

We are His house

It is common for people to refer to church buildings (at least from denominations they agree with) as "The House of the Lord", as if a building that is used a couple of times a week is the dwelling place of God. Lots of people like to quote verses like Psalm 122:1: I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!" on Sunday morning as if David was speaking about First Baptist Church in your hometown. We are not Old Testament Israel and the New Testament has a far different picture of how God dwells among His people today:

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (2 Cor 6:16)

And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Act 13:52)

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:22)

God's dwelling place is in His people, not buildings made of brick and mortar, no matter what the sign out front says or which confessions that particular group holds to. When you gather with the church this morning, you are not going to The House of the Lord, you are meeting up with a bunch of dwelling places for the Spirit of God. It is kind of like a Holy Spirit block party! So don't focus on the place you are going or the things you are doing this morning, focus on the One you gather to worship and the ones you are gathering with. The church is about Christ and His people, not places and rituals.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Best of the week entry 7

Comes from Hereiblog and Mark takes on the recent decision by Liberty University to invite mormon Glenn Beck to speak at their commencement and bestow an honorary degree upon him. From Liberty University, Glenn Beck and the Gospel:

It is disappointing the the world’s largest Evangelical Christian university had a Mormon come and speak about the gospel. Are accomplished Christian’s so few that none were available? Does Liberty really believe in the power of the gospel to change and influence lives? Or, is it more important to focus on and unite around social/political issues? Change laws, change lives? Change values, change lives? What happens if American society today collapses and our freedoms lost? Will the world have no hope until the freedoms are restored? Or will the gospel flourish under persecution as it did in times past and in other parts of the world today?

Liberty should have called Glenn Beck to repent and believe the good news rather than to represent and retrieve his views. Christians must regain the trust in the power of the gospel, not in its assumption. No matter the social/political circumstances the gospel of Jesus Christ provides the greatest hope of all.

Ironically, Liberty would probably be more comfortable inviting a mormon unbeliever to speak than a brother in Christ who holds to Calvinism. Liberty made a decision here, a clear and obvious one, that Beck's conservative political credentials trumped fidelity to the Gospel. Instead of praising and accepting Beck, he should have been presented with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and told to repent. Instead Beck and mormonism were given yet another slice of credibility, a credibility that will be used to deceive people with the false and damnable "gospel" of mormonism.

Political conservatism is not the Gospel and making alliances based on conservative talk show credentials instead of proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord is a gross error. Liberty has shamed the Gospel and the cross of Christ and the leaders of Liberty should be repenting in sackcloth and ashes instead of snidely congratulating themselves for being so clever.

Best of the week entry 6

Comes from DoodleBlog, the blog of the Timberdoodle homeschool supply company and features a video on the consumerization of our children. I embedded the video below but here is a brief quote from the post Pervasive, Persuasive, Pernicious:

Our gospel community group is currently working through a series on the sovereignty of God in suffering, the content of which goes against all that consumerism promises. Consumerism preaches that it is all about you, what you want, and how to get others to worship you, but the call of Scripture speaks of higher things, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death,” and “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.”

Here is the video in question:

Best of the week entry 5

Comes from Mike Ratliff and is a review of an e-book by Jack Fortenberry. I have Jack's book Corinthian Elders saved on my computer and plan to read it soon as well but it has quite an impact of Mike. From his review titled A New Reformation:

I know that some of you reading this are asking yourself if I am suddenly turning on all my Pastor and Elder and Bible teacher friends across the world, throwing them under the bus and moving into a strict house church mode with simply a few Elders who only assist the Body in worship and Bible study. Well, no I am not advocating that. I am asking questions. I am praying. I am asking God what He has been showing me since He has driven me from the visible Church and what I am to do in response to that. I am convinced that the visible church is consuming itself in apostasy. There are still some good churches and good church leaders out there. There are still some churches that have not apostatized. However, when I visit these churches as an outsider, and that is what I am anymore, I see the compromises. I see the world creeping in. I see things going on that would never have been tolerated not that long ago. This is only my theory, but I am convinced that we are in for a new Reformation of the Invisible Church. That is the genuine Church, the elect, not the professing, non-elect that make up a large part of the visible church. Could this new Reformation be a turn back to the model implemented by the Apostles in the 1st Century? That would be a model of small local bodies of believers lead by a few elders very well documented by Jack Fortenberry in this book. Of course, in these last dark days before the light, we could be driven underground anyway and I cannot think of better place for the church to go than into this model. What do you think?

Those are strong words but I appreciate where he is coming from and what he is saying. I especially relate to the idea of being an outsider. I find myself uncomfortable in a traditional church setting these days, it seems so loud, so ritualistic and contrary to the picture of the church in Scripture. I love that the internet allows us to read and interact with others who think in a similar fashion so we know we are not alone.

Best of the week entry 4

Goes to Eric Carpenter for his obligatory entry. I guess I could just leave a "Best of the week entry X" in place for Eric and you can assume that something he has written is Best of the Week worthy. This week is a two-fer from Eric. The first is I Can't Rely On Tradition, Reason or Experience and the second is Who Decides What The Church Believes. Both excellent, thought provoking posts.

I am not going to excerpt them because I want you to go read them for yourself. A Pilgrim's Progress is on my select list of blogs that I read every day and if you are interested in thinking about the church, you should too.