Which comes first: the text or the theme?

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I’ve been spending a lot of time in Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic book, Preaching and Preachers, which is simply one of the most helpful books I’ve read on preaching, even while affirming Warren Wiersbe’s encouragement to read it “at least twice: once to disagree and once to be helped.”1 Lloyd-Jones stresses that the text should almost always come before a theme, for a simple reason: the theme should come from the text, lest a theme be forced upon it.

There’s a lot of wisdom in this. Too often, especially when we play Bible roulette, we come up to a verse or a passage and attach personal significance that has little or nothing to do with the text’s actual meaning. When you see Jeremiah 29:11 used as a verse on a coffee cup, or on a beautiful landscape painting, this is what I mean. You also see it in most—nearly all—uses of Isaiah 58 in poverty alleviation circles, overlooking the context of the rebuke.

I was talking over this very thing with a good friend last night, since I’m preparing to once again to preach to a small congregation a few hours from where I live. And as I pray and think on the needs of this congregation, I keep coming back to a key theme, rather than being drawn to a specific text.

But during our conversation, as my friend and I talked through this, it was easy to see where the theme aligned with Scripture, with texts where it is clearly visible.

This was just a helpful reminder for me that there isn’t always a hard and fast rule about such things. Sometimes you’ll have a clear idea for a text—you’ll want to preach Obadiah, and then you’ll realize you’re preaching on (among other things) eschatology. Sometimes you’ll feel compelled to speak on contentment in sacrifice for the sake of Christ, and you’ll easily find yourself in Philippians.

Which comes first: the theme or the text?

The short answer? Yes.


Photo credit: A.D. Wheeler Photography via photopin cc

Links I like

Holy Relics: A Focus on the Family Movie Review

This is so, so good.

Was Adam a Historical Person?

Guy Waters:

It may help to pause and review what the issues in this particular debate are and what they are not. The issues do not concern the age of the earth and of the universe. Neither do they concern how we are to understand the days of Genesis 1. Reformed evangelicals have disagreed on these issues for generations, all the while affirming their common belief that Adam was a historical person.

We may frame the issue in the form of two related questions. First, does the Bible require us to believe that Adam was a historical person? Second, would anything be lost in the gospel if we were to deny Adam’s historicity?

Elisha Ben Kenobi and the Power of God

Derek Rishmawy on a funny moment in the ministry of Elisha.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Amazon’s big deal sale is on sale now through August 24th—here are a few fantastic deals that you’ll want to take advantage of if you haven’t already:

5 Myths You Still Might Believe about the Puritans

Coleman Ford:

Maybe it’s the smug servant Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Perhaps it’s the extremely suspicious Boston community in Nathaniel Hawthrone’s The Scarlett Letter. Or it could be the more recent TV drama named for the location of the infamous Salem witch trials of early colonial America. High school history books continue to tell tales of America’s Pharisaic progenitors and their overly concerned moralism with attempts to establish God’s pure “city on a hill.” Many of us have grown up with an understanding of Puritans as those gloomy religious folk who found joy in making sure others had none. The tale of spoilsport Puritans continues to be told, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Here are 5 myths about Puritans which you may still believe.

 David, Goliath, and You?

Ben Dunson:

But how should we respond to a story from the Bible like this? Be bold and overcome the obstacles in our lives? Be courageous and slay our personal Goliaths? No, and it is easy to see why many have shied away from teaching this story as an example for Christians to follow today.

But David is an example for us.

The righteous don’t go with the flow

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The happy man (or, the man enjoying God’s blessing) is the separated man, a man who is not in neutral but who has a bias against evil in all its forms.… So… how happy the man who does not… He is countercultural. He is, in a word, different. He is not just a nice, easy-going, tolerant chap who likes to share a Löwenbräu with you. There’s a difference between the righteous man here and what my culture calls a ‘good old boy.’ He resists the vacuum-cleaner power-moves that evil puts on him. Mardy Grothe tells of a long-lived lady who, when asked what was the best thing about being 104, replied, ‘No peer pressure.’ But the righteous man in [Psalm 1:1] is not 104 and he meets plenty of peer pressure. It may cost him. But the righteous man is the one who does not go with the flow.

Dale Ralph Davis, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life: Psalms 1-12, 15

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When is saving repentance truly seen?

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If our sorrow only gushes forth when we are musing upon the doom of the wicked, and the wrath of God, we have then reason to suspect its evangelical character; but if contemplations of Jesus, of his cross, of heaven, of eternal love, of covenant grace, of pardoning blood and full redemption bring tears to our eyes, we may then rejoice that we sorrow after a godly sort. The sinner awakened by the Holy Spirit will find the source of his stream of sorrow not on the thorn-clad sides of Sinai, but on the grassy mound of Calvary. His cry will be, “O sin, I hate thee, for thou didst murder my Lord;” and his mournful dirge over his crucified Redeemer will be in plaintive words—

“’Twas you, my sins, my eruel sins,
His chief tormentors were;
Each of my crimes became a nail,
And unbelief the spear;
’Twas you that pull’d the vengeance down
Upon his guiltless head;
Break, break, my heart, oh burst mine eyes,
And let my sorrows bleed.”

Ye who love the Lord, give your assent to this our declaration, that love did melt you more than wrath, that the wooing voice did more affect you than the condemning sentence, and that hope did impel you more than fear. It was when viewing our Lord as crucified, dead, and buried that we most wept. He with his looks made us weep bitterly, while the stern face of Moses caused us to tremble, but never laid us prostrate confessing our transgression. We sorrow because our offence is against Him, against his love, his blood, his grace, his heart of affection. Jesus is the name which subdues the stubborn heart, if it be truly brought into subjection to the Gospel. He is the rod which bringeth waters out of the rock, he is the hammer which breaketh the rock in pieces.

C. H. Spurgeon, The Saint and His Savior: The Progress of the Soul in the Knowledge of Jesus, 82–83.

Being all about Jesus: thoughts on Mark Driscoll, anger, forgiveness and grace

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So… Mark Driscoll.

Yeah.

By now, you’ve probably read scores of blog posts from all corners of the Internet talking about his removal from membership with Acts 29, the church planting network he co-founded, and its board’s call for him to take an extended leave of absence from ministry.

You’ve read accounts from his apologists and antagonists alike, responding to the charges of abusive behavior, vulgar language, and sinful anger, to name but a few of the disqualifying charges leveled against him.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably had a mix of emotions.

“How could I have been so foolish?”

I first learned of Mark Driscoll in 2006, as a fairly new Christian (about 18 months as a believer), and just beginning to come to some doctrinal convictions. I was a member of a church that followed a seeker-sensitive model, but with little gospel proclamation. Hearing him was refreshing, even if I could have done without the yelling and whooping. He was relatable in the way he spoke. He talked about Jesus a lot. He preached the Bible as if it really mattered.

Those are things I’m truly grateful for.

But over the years, as my own discernment and convictions grew, his shininess became tarnished. Questions and concerns started growing: about the quality and content of his preaching, about his responses to criticism about his books, about the concerns I was seeing more and more frequently in my newsfeed and hearing from people in the circles I travel in.

And then the plagiarism allegations came to light, which have been more or less proven true (whether you agree with how they came about, well, that’s a different discussion). And then the revelations of the culture of fear and abuse from former—and well respected—elders and staff members. And then the… You get the idea.

With revelation after revelation, my disillusionment started to turn into anger—anger at the numerous and carefully crafted apologies that seemed designed to absolve oneself of guilt, but lacked true contrition. Over the number of people damaged, even as numerous people came to know the Lord. Over the way the Lord’s name was being defamed as one man continued to act with impunity and without accountability.

What do I—as someone watching this mostly from a distance—do with this? What do I do with this anger, this heartbreak, and this feeling of “oh my goodness, how could I have been so foolish?”

Turn away from anger

As hard as it is, turn away from anger. When anger is left to fester, it becomes bitterness. And bitterness is death. When we let anger linger, the offense we feel can lead us to rejoice in Driscoll’s downfall. What was hidden has been revealed, as the Lord said it would be. But the last thing we need to do is point and say, “I told you so!”

“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,” Proverbs 24:17 tells us. If you see Driscoll as an enemy to the gospel or as your enemy, you must not rejoice in all of this, as tempting as it may be. It’s disrespectful to him, it’s unbecoming of you, and it’s dishonoring of the Lord Jesus. To not put too fine a point on it, if you are rejoicing over Driscoll’s downfall, consider your ways.

Similarly, remember that we live in a culture that distrusts authority of any kind. You and I are not immune to this. And seeing the actions of a prominent figure like Driscoll can exacerbate this tendency. When a leader falls, we easily say, “And that’s why we shouldn’t have leaders,” when the truth is we shouldn’t have leaders who don’t have true accountability. God established leadership in the church, but he also established accountability for that leadership. It’s why we’re told that Jesus walks among the churches, and stands in judgment over them. It’s why we always see a plurality of elders—not in name only, but in practice—and teaching always tested against Scripture. It’s why laypersons can and should be able to raise concerns about our leaders, just as we can about one another.

Let grace triumph

But more positively, what we can do is, where we need to, seek forgiveness. If, in my failure to voice concern about a leader I have failed my brothers and sisters in Christ, I need to ask their forgiveness. If by my actions, I have allowed an abusive leader to continue unchecked, I need to repent. If in my desire to believe the best about someone (which we should always seek to do), I have failed to examine that person critically, I need to admit I was wrong.

I am not personally responsible for Mark Driscoll’s continued pattern of sinful behavior (and chances are, if you’re reading this, you aren’t personally affected by it, either). But while I am not responsible for his actions, I do need to confess something: I was not discerning enough about him. I wanted to think the best of him. I wanted to believe that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, he had true accountability. I was wrong, and I am sorry because, had I realized how bad things truly were, I would never have recommended his books, nor would I have recommended his teaching. But here is my hope in this: that grace would triumph.

And that’s my prayer in this ugly situation. I’m praying that those who have been hurt by Driscoll’s abusive behavior, those who have been maligned and slandered, will find healing and restoration. I’m praying that Mark Driscoll would heed the call from his brothers in Christ to take an extended leave—even a permanent one—from ministry and get the help he desperately needs. I’m praying that the existing elders who remain at Mars Hill will have the courage to humble themselves as they attempt to pick up the pieces and restore trust among those who make it their home. I’m not praying for former glories to return. But I am praying that, true to their tagline, every decision made from here on out would really be “all about Jesus.”


Photo credit: Lel4nd via photopin cc

Three warning signs I’m too busy

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These days I’ve been feeling pretty distracted. Pulled in a lot of directions. Focus hasn’t been coming easily to me. I’ve spent the last two months working more than I should, although with good reason, which help that whole “work/life balance” thing. I periodically go through seasons like this, where—either because of external factors or my own tendency to take on too much—I find myself with waaaaaaaaaay too much on my plate.

So how do I know when I’ve gotten there? Here are three signs that usually clue me in:

1. Reduced sleeping time. While I’ve always been a six or seven hours a night guy (which is barely considered healthy), when I am too busy, it’s really not good. It usually starts with bedtime getting pushed back just a bit later. And then a bit later. And then a bit later again.… And then the morning starts coming earlier. And a little earlier than that. And then a little earlier than that. And then consistent sleep becomes elusive, to the point that I’m waking up periodically throughout the night, getting maybe 2 hours of sleep in a row… and only four to five hours of sleep total.

2. Forgetfulness. Because I’m trying to do too much, I start forgetting things. At first it starts small, like forgetting a piece of a conversation, but it escalates from there. This one is probably the most frustrating for my wife, even more than my occasional irritability, because it is so disruptive to our daily lives.

3. Unfocused reading. Honestly, this is the sign that almost always clues me in. When I’m way too busy, I can’t focus easily. And because I can’t focus, reading just one book becomes challenging. So I start a book… and then I start another. And then another. And then another… and before you know it, I’ve got up to 12 on the go. Which is dumb.

It’s also where, I realized this week, I’m at. I’ve been way too busy lately. But I have a hard time realizing it. This is, in part, because one of the ways I unwind is by… working. When I’m not working at my day job, I’m writing a blog post, or working on a documentary script, or a book proposal or doing some marketing consulting work.

(My wife likes to joke that my hobbies are jobs.)

For me creative outlets—which usually come in the form of work—help me unwind.

But when I’m not careful, when my employer’s needs increase during a particularly busy season for example, even the things that help me unwind can actually add to my feeling of being way too busy.

At this point in an article like this, it’s typical to include the “and here’s what I’m doing to change all that.” Well, I’ve got some bad news: I don’t have anything profound to say on that. I can only give the first step: recognizing the problem. But that’s probably the most important one because if you don’t see the problem—if you don’t know how to recognize the warning signs—you won’t be able to work toward finding a solution.


Photo credit: Ian Sane via photopin cc

Links I like

Are Christian Missionaries Narcissistic Idiots?

Albert Mohler:

…Ebola has been recognized as a disease only since the first outbreak was identified 40 years ago. One third of the total fatalities caused by Ebola have occurred in the most recent outbreak—and the toll is rising. Health authorities in Nigeria have said that five other Nigerian health workers, who also had treated AIDS patients, have been diagnosed with the disease. One American, Patrick Sawyer, a financial expert of Liberian descent, died on July 25 arriving in Lagos on a flight from Liberia. Meanwhile, according to USA Today, a Saudi man being tested for the disease has died in Jeddah. If indeed it turns out that he died of the disease, it will be the first fatality outside West Africa during the latest outbreak. Every medical authority on the planet is on the alert.

And yet from a Christian concern we cannot leave the issue of the Ebola outbreak without turning to another kind of atrocity. In this case the atrocity was an opinion piece published just yesterday by conservative commentator Ann Coulter.

Kindle deals for Christian readers (updated!)

There have been some pretty phenomenal Kindle deals this week. Be sure to take advantage of these while they last!

Amazon’s Big Deal sale is back and includes some pretty fantastic books:

Be sure to check out the complete list of deals here.

Also on sale:

This Demon Only Comes Out By Prayer and Prozac

Matthew Loftus:

The impetus behind the use of the words “chemical imbalance” is good. After all, confining mental illness solely to the untouchable realm of feelings and thoughts is not only ignorant of biology, but also of orthodox anthropology. Furthermore, such a harsh dichotomy happens to be extraordinarily ineffective in the lives of most sufferers of mental illness. You may or may not have heard of an excellent book that sought to make clear the theological importance of our physical bodies; affirming that deficiencies or excesses of certain chemicals in our brains play a role in mental illness is an important step in the process of rightly treating our bodies as part of the created order. In turn, the judicious use of other chemicals to rein in the torment and harm caused by mental illness is as much a part of using our God-given power to exercise dominion over the earth as is carefully using pesticides on our crops so that more people can eat.

However, saying “you’ve got a chemical imbalance” does not go far enough and, paradoxically, can often take us too far in the wrong direction.

Get Living for God’s Glory in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Living for God’s Glory by Joel Beeke (ePub for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Think Like a Christian teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • Standing Firm: 2012 West Coast Conference messages (audio and video download)
  • The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther by Steven Lawson (hardcover)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

The changing face of the homosexuality debate

Sarah Pulliam Bailey:

For years, those who were gay or struggled with homosexuality felt like they had few good options: leave their faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change. But as groups like Exodus have become increasingly unpopular, Rodgers is among those who embrace a different model: celibate gay Christians, who seek to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.

Time for a Spirit Check

Nick Batzig:

It’s interesting that in the account of Luke 9:51-56, James and John have not actually said or done anything to hurt someone. It is what they say to Jesus that reveals what spirit was in them. As the old saying goes, “the matter of the heart is the heart of the matter;” or, as the Proverbs remind us, “Above all things keep the heart, for out of it flows the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23).

There are so many applications of this principle that even the world itself is not big enough to contain all the volumes that would have to be written. Here are a few basic categories of application that I believe will help all believers.

Our happy God

David Murray:
What makes God so happy? Three times we are told that our God is “blessed forever” (Rom. 1:25; 9:5; 2 Cor. 11:31). But what makes Him so happy? Well, I’m sure there are many contributing factors. For example, being perfectly holy must be a great source of happiness. The absence of uncertainty, through knowing the end from the beginning, must also engender huge happiness.

But maybe we can also learn about divine happiness from human happiness. In Where does happiness come? Oscar del Ben reflects on this question, and gives four possible answers. I couldn’t help but think of how his “human” answers may give theological insight into some sources of God’s happiness.

You know it’s not that hard, right?

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I don’t always do something stupid, but when I do, it’s usually reading comments on blogs.

Seriously. I’m very thankful for the helpful quality and tone of 99.9 per cent of the comments I receive on this blog. But, dang, you all are the anomaly, I think. That or I’m just reading the wrong websites.

Anyway…

The last time I made the mistake of reading the comments section on a blog, it was on an article talking about some of the latest blunders and buffoonery coming out of Seattle (I can’t remember the site, which may or may not be a good thing). As I read these comments, some thoughtful, some obvious trolling and attempts at gaining some attention for their own blogs, I stumbled upon a statement I never expected to see:

“I don’t believe any pastor needs to be above reproach.”

I… What do I even do with that besides say: “Well, you should, because the Bible tells you so (1 Tim 3:2)?”

The thing that’s funny about this blanket character qualification for a pastor/elder, this whole idea of being above reproach, is, really, it’s not that hard in some ways. I mean, at a basic level, being above reproach could be summed up simply as being a person of good character—you’re the kind of person who, as Thabiti Anyabwile puts it, “no one suspects of wrongdoing and immorality” (Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, 57).

It doesn’t mean you’re perfect. It doesn’t mean you’re sinless.

But it does mean your character is such that others would be absolutely shocked if you were accused of some wrongdoing or immoral behavior or speech.

It means people would be surprised if you were accused of trolling on a website, swiping from other people’s sermons, only allowing your kids to watch the prequel trilogy, fudging your taxes, sexually harassing your admin assistant…

You know it’s not that hard, right?

When we no longer believe a basic character requirement—one that, at the lowest possible bar, means adhering to “Wheaton’s Law“—is actually a requirement, it’s sad. When we no longer believe it’s attainable, something is dreadfully wrong.


Photo credit: __o__ via photopin cc

Links I like

RIP idiot Dads

This Cheerios commercial gives me hope that “dad as incompetent boob” marketing might be coming to an end: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GYxH2-WeZY

Why Collectively Ignoring Mark Driscoll Isn’t an Option

Richard Clark hits the nail on the head:

You can mark me down on your list of people who have, in some way, gawked and marveled with morbid interest at the inward and outward controversies surrounding that infamous Seattle pastor and his church. For those invested in the broader evangelical landscape–and any parachurch organization or outlet must be, these events are inescapable. Driscoll’s missteps inevitably reflect not just on his own church, but on the evangelical church as a whole.

But really, that goes for any pastor. Any time any pastor of a church is caught in controversy or scandal, those happenings are reported breathlessly by local news outlets, and then–if they’re just scandalous enough–by national news outlets. And it’s not like we can blame them. After all, the moment “Christian Pastor Acts UnChristianly” ceases to be news-worthy, we’ve got bigger problems to deal with than a bad reputation.

Great deals at Westminster Bookstore

Westminster Bookstore has some pretty phenomenal deals on a few books about preaching (focusing both how to preach and how to listen to a sermon). One of the best is the current special on David Helm’s Expositional Preaching—get this for $8 (or $6.50 per copy when ordering five or more). They’re also offering four-volumes on practical shepherding by Brian Croft for $32.

Grace And Identity

Tullian Tchividjian:

A few years back I was driving one of my sons home from his basketball game and he was crying. He’s a great basketball player but had a less than stellar performance and he was, as a result, crushed. After doing my best to comfort him by listening to him and reminding him that his game was not nearly as bad as he thought it was and that even the best basketball players in the world have an off game here and there, I asked him why he was so upset. He told me plainly, “Dad, I played terrible.” I said, “I know you don’t think you played well but why does not playing well make you so sad.” He said (with tremendously keen self-awareness), “Because I’m a basketball player. That’s who I am.” Somewhere along the way he had concluded (due to success on the basketball court over the years) that his self-worth and value as a person was inextricably tied to his achievements as a basketball player. If he was a good basketball player, then he mattered. If he wasn’t, he didn’t. So a bad game was more than a bad game. It was a direct assault on his identity. I realized in the moment that any attempt to assure him that he was a great basketball player wasn’t going to help him because basketball wasn’t the issue–identity was. He was suffering an identity crisis, not a basketball crisis. A basketball crisis is easy to solve–a little more practice and a lot of encouragement typically does the trick. But an identity crisis is deep. It’s an under the surface problem requiring an under the surface solution.

Can There Be Thrills in Heaven?

Randy Alcorn:

A sincere young man told me that no matter what I might say, Heaven must be boring. Why? “Because you can’t appreciate good without bad, light without darkness, or safety without danger. If Heaven is safe, if there’s no risk, it has to be boring.”

3 Ways NOT to Share Jesus

Chris Martin:

One of the first posts I wrote here on the blog was on three ways to reach Millennials. There’s no silver bullet for reaching young people, everyone knows that, but you can seek to be wise in doing so. If and when you have the opportunity to share Christ with a Millennial, here are three ways you should NOT answer the question, “So why should I believe in Jesus?”

16 timely quotes from Why We’re Not Emergent

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At the beginning of the year, I started what I called the re-reading project, an attempt to diversify my reading a bit in 2014 by re-reading one previously enjoyed book each month.

A few weeks back, I decided to take a trip back in time to 2008, to the days when men’s capris were (strangely) in fashion, and Rob Bell was still considered a Christian by the average evangelical. The purpose of this trip? To re-read Why We’re Not Emergent by then unknown authors Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

Why re-read a book tied to a movement most consider dead and buried? Even though the movement itself might be dead, the emergent mystique is alive and well, even if everyone eschews the term “emergent” (it is so early 2000s, after all…). The biggest difference is that the lines are clearer: today’s “progressives” are yesterday’s “emergents,” but more willing to be forthright about most of their beliefs. (And many of yesterday’s emergents have felt the freedom to start doing the same.)

But the same intellectual snobbery and cynical questioning remain—even as those who portray themselves as outside the cultural mainstream find themselves marching lockstep right along with the world. To these attitudes, Why We’re Not Emergent still has so much to say to us. Here are sixteen timely quotes that still offer necessary challenge to the thinking of progressives and conservatives alike:

  1. “It’s some combination of pious confusion and intellectual laziness to claim that living in mystery is at the heart of Christianity.” (37-38)
  2. “Arguing for the inherent uncertainty of knowledge causes problems when you write books trying to convince people to believe or behave in certain ways. That is to say, radical uncertainty sounds nice as a sort of protest against the perceived dogmatism of evangelical Christianity, but it gets in the way when you want to prove a point.” (41)
  3. “For every fundamentalist who loves the Bible more than Christ, I’m willing to be there are several emergent Christians who honor the Bible less than Christ did.” (81)
  4. “Doctrine was to die for because it was the heartbeat of Paul’s saving message about saving historical facts.” (113)
  5. “The problem lies not in emerging Christian seeking the truth, but in their refusal to find and call out falsehood.” (119)
  6. “God is greater than we can conceive—but what about the 1,189 chapters in the Bible? Don’t they tell us lots of things about God that we are supposed to do more with than doubt and not understand?” (123-124)
  7. “I would rather take a beating than argue (dialogue) on message boards all day, where people are brave and full of convictions without actually being brave and full of convictions.” (138)
  8. “Is the best corrective to domineering CEO pastors really bewildered Dorothy leaders? How about shepherd or teacher or overseer or herald?” (160)
  9. “At times I feel as if the emergent church is like that friend who goes off to college as an eighteen-year-old, and for the first year or so when he comes home feels like he has to quote Nietzsche just to impress you with his newfound intellect.” (172)
  10. “If my mother-in-law’s suburban crowd…is on board, then it [the emergent movement] is as mainstream as mainstream can be.” (177)
  11. “Too often emergent leaders force us to choose between salvation by following Jesus’ example or salvation that doesn’t care about good works. But this is another false dilemma.” (203)
  12. “Call me old-fashioned, but it doesn’t fill me with hope or warm feelings to hear my pastor…suggest that he may be, and probably is, wrong about all of this.… I want to believe, and do believe, that people can known things and still be humble.” (228)
  13. “…I’m really glad that we have a pastor who, instead of being ‘with it,’ is committed to being with God.” (235)
  14. “Doctrinally minded evangelical Christians like me would get more out of emergent critiques if they recognized that there are just as many undiscerning, overtolerant Pergamums and Thyatiras in North America and the United Kingdom as there are loveless Ephesuses.” (241)
  15. “We may think right, live right, and do right, but if we do it off in a corner, shining our lights at one another to probe our brother’s sins instead of pointing our lights out into the world, we will, as a church, grow dim, and eventually our light will be extinguished.” (244)
  16. “A therapist-Christ does not evoke an ardency of soul that wishes to be annihilated, emptied of self and filled with Christ and made pure with a divine and heavenly purity. We need a Christ from above.” (250)

The movement might be dead, but the mood isn’t. And although some of the examples might be a bit dated, Why We’re Not Emergent  is still a helpful corrective.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

PROOF by Daniel Montgomery & Timothy Paul Jones (which I reviewed yesterday) is $3.99, and What’s Best Next by Matt Perman is $3.79. Also on sale:

Should I Tell My Spouse about Struggles with Sexual Purity?

Garrett Kell:

“Should I tell my wife?” Daniel leaned back with no interest in the meal before him. He’d looked at racy pictures again and the weight of conviction was inescapable. He had confessed his sin to God and to me, but should he confess it to her? What would you tell Daniel?

The Elder’s Vows

Thabiti Anyabwile:

This past Sunday I stood with four other men to be ordained as elders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I’ve had the honor of being ordained an elder on four occasions now, twice at Capitol Hill. Each time it’s been a sobering and joyful experience. Each time I’ve been reminded of the seriousness of shepherding the Lord’s people, sheep purchased with His own blood. For me, the most solemn part of the day is the taking of vows before the Lord, my fellow elders and the congregation.

For Some Reason, Anger Never Works The Way I Think It Will

Stephen Altrogge:

I have this idea that if I get sufficiently angry with a person, I can get them to change. If I raise my voice to a high enough decibel level, my children will get the point, repent of their sin, and be healthy, happy, productive members of the family. If I communicate forcefully, and with enough fury, my friend will stop looking at the porn that is destroying his life. If I give someone the silent treatment long enough, they will be brought to their knees in sorrow. Yeah right.

Searching for Fellowship amid Friendliness

Here’s a really good piece highlighting TGC Atlantic Canada. Really excited by what they’re doing on the East Coast.

What Loving the Unlovable Looks Like

Mike Leake:

You’ve likely never heard of her. She died a recluse in 1933. Having never married and living most of her life deaf and bedridden by a spinal problem, her name threatened to fall through the cracks of history. That would have been a shame because she single-handedly changed the course of American history. Her name is Julia Sand. The world was unaware of her name and her profound influence until a stack of twenty-three papers were uncovered in 1958. Encased in those letters were words that changed a would-be president.

PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace

The doctrines of grace have an image problem.

It’s easy to understand why: Those who embrace them, those Calvinists are a shifty bunch. If they’re not limiting salvation to a tiny handful of people, they’re trying to take over your local church like stealthy ninjas. Or something.

Regardless of the silliness you sometimes see, especially in the blogosphere, about Calvinist conspiracies, hostile takeovers, and the joyful condemnation of sinners to hell, there is an almost complete lack of understanding as to what the doctrines of grace—sometimes called the five points of Calvinism—actually are.

Clearly, Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones have noticed this problem, and their new book, PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace, seeks to remedy it by “awaken[ing] you from the delusion that life depends on you and free[ing] you to discover the intoxicating joy of God’s wild and free grace” (16). They do this by offering readers a fresh look at the doctrines of grace—by redefining them around grace.

Redefining the doctrines of grace around grace

Rather than using the oft-repeated (and not entirely reflective of Reformed theology) acrostic TULIP, the authors redefine the doctrines of grace as PROOF:

  • Planned grace—“God planned to show his grace to his chosen people… God’s eternal plan was to love his children and give us his very best” (31, 32).
  • Resurrecting grace—“Apart from God’s single-handed gift of resurrecting grace, no human being will ever seek God because a death-defeating King who demands that we find our greatest joy in his Father’s fame is repulsive to the spiritually dead” (51).
  • Outrageous grace—“God chose us … and secured us as his children without the slightest reliance on anything we have done or might do… All of his, from beginning to end, God accomplished not due to our deeds but ‘freely by his grace’” (74-75).
  • Overcoming grace—“God unshackles us from the enslaving contagion of sin so that we glimpse the overwhelming beauty of Jesus and his kingdom” (91).
  • Forever grace—“If you are God’s property—someone who has been transformed by God’s power—no one, not even you, can remove you from God’s hand.… What our perseverance provides is evidence that Jesus is present in our faith, working his works through us” (111-112, 116).

Can you see why these doctrines have an image problem?

But truly, the issue doesn’t come from the doctrines themselves—the issue comes from us. Every element of this acrostic points away from us and what we do to God and what He does. They put us in a position of utter dependency, of desperate need. And we hate that, don’t we?

Years ago, I was teaching a children’s Sunday school class, and we discussed how we are Jesus’ sheep. A six-year-old girl—the pastor’s daughter!—went berserk when she heard this, defiantly declaring, “I am not a dumb sheep!”

Let’s be honest, us grown-ups are no different. The idea of being a “sheep”—a dumb, defenseless animal, totally incapable of caring for itself—is offensive to us. And yet, this is how the Lord describes His people: as sheep in need of a shepherd. These doctrines only serve to reinforce that: to challenge our self-reliance and destroy any misconceptions as to whom all glory, honor and praise is due.

Old wine in new wineskins

Some might argue that redefining the acrostic doesn’t resolve the issue with these doctrines. But that all depends on your point of view. If you have an issue with the doctrines of grace, it doesn’t matter how they’re articulated, you’re going to reject them. If you see the wine as tainted, a new wineskin isn’t going to help.

But what Montgomery and Jones do exceptionally well here is show us that this old wine is indeed the best. “Grace sets people free… Grace gives rest and peace… Grace leaves us with nothing to prove because, in Christ, everything that needs to be proven has already been provided” (143).

Like the pure rations that flashed in the tankards of eighteenth century sailors, the undiluted message of grace is intoxicating—so strong that it leaves us slaphappy, staggering, and singing for joy at the thought that God chose to love us precisely when there was nothing loveable about us.

This joy is the fuel that drives Christian worship. When a church proclaims God’s undiluted grace, the deadly delusions of human religion are drowned in a flood of gospel-fueled freedom and intoxicating joy. (22-23)

Engaging PROOF in all of life

There’s nothing stealth about the Calvinism in PROOF. There’s nothing hostile or conspiratorial. This is not a grim tome filled with condemnation. What Montgomery and Jones offer is a picture of grace—grace that is to be meditated upon, sung about, worshiped through. Pure, undiluted grace; the kind that truly changes lives, the kind that is meant to be engaged in all of life. This is the grace we all need. Come, discover it with fresh eyes, won’t you?


Title: PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace
Authors: Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones
Publisher: Zondervan (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

Links I like

The Evangelical Persecution Complex

Alan Noble offers a thought-provoking piece:

The Christian church itself has a long history of telling stories of martyrdom and persecution. The stories of saints’ lives often center on their sufferings for Christ. For example, Fox’s Book of Martyrs is a popular and classic text recounting notable martyrdoms throughout church history. The purpose of these stories is to inspire and strengthen Christians, particularly those who will later face persecution. But they were not designed to function as aspirational fantasy. And that is the real problem with many persecution narratives in Christian culture: They fetishize suffering.

I will be a unifying Christian

This is a lovely piece from Thom Rainer.

The Unbelonging

Lore Ferguson:

I’ve always been a fan of the fringe. If you can stand on the sidelines and affect change from within, you’ve followed the model Christ set forth well. I watched a movie a few months ago in which the principal characters return to high-school incognito. They’re so far removed from high-school that what was cool then is not cool now. The jocks are jerks and the nerds are neat. What happened?

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Finally, the Christian Encounters series is on sale for 99¢ each:

Look! A Distraction!

Tim Challies:

Distraction is one of the costs of life in a digital world. Paul Graham says it well: “Distraction is not a static obstacle that you avoid like you might avoid a rock in the road. Distraction seeks you out.” We surround ourselves with devices that bring us so many good gifts, but even these good gifts exact a cost—the cost of distraction. The iPad that allows me to read the Bible anytime and anywhere also barges into my devotional life with notifications and alerts. The phone that allows me to stay in touch with my family while they are far away also wakes me at night with its buzzes and flashes. It giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other.

We are learning. We are learning the costs so that we might also learn the solutions. Here are three of the costs of all of this distraction.

Stealth Calvinist Ninjas

Derek Rishmawy offers some constructive criticism to Roger Olson’s subtly titled “Beware of Stealth Calvinism!”:

What I want to point out in the middle of this is the bald-faced cynicism of the post. Here we don’t simply have a theological correction, dispute, or caution about inadvertent theological drift. No, here we have a warning about Calvinist tactics in general, about their alleged strategic maneuvering to crowd out and stamp out divergent thought by “stealthily” taking advantage of people’s ignorance.

I know I’m a lot younger, but if we’re dealing in anecdotes, I suppose part of the reason I find the whole thing silly is that three out of the four Christian colleges nearby me, including my own seminary, are explicitly non-Reformed, and the fourth is definitely blended. Fuller has, maybe a few Reformed theologians, certainly not of the militant sort. They’re not cranking out Calvinists ready to take over churches there. But maybe that’s just a Southern California thing.

The Folly and Hubris of Richard Dawkins

Eleanor Robertson at The Guardian:

Dawkins’ narrowmindedness, his unshakeable belief that the entire history of human intellectual achievement was just a prelude to the codification of scientific inquiry, leads him to dismiss the insights offered not only by theology, but philosophy, history and art as well.

To him, the humanities are expendable window-dressing, and the consciousness and emotions of his fellow human beings are byproducts of natural selection that frequently hobble his pursuit and dissemination of cold, hard facts. His orientation toward the world is the product of a classic category mistake, but because he’s nestled inside it so snugly he perceives complex concepts outside of his understanding as meaningless dribble. If he can’t see it, then it doesn’t exist, and anyone trying to describe it to him is delusional and possibly dangerous.

Accidental double agents in the pulpit

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You have heard it said, “Pray like a Calvinist and work like an Arminian”—or, “pray as though everything depended on God, but work as though everything depended on you.”

But I tell you, this silly nonsense should never be heard coming from the lips of a consistent Evangelical Protestant.

Ever.

The reason is simple: aside from being stupid, it’s heresy.1

This realization hit me as I continued my trek through Bruce Shelley’s wonderful Church History in Plain Language. There, as he writes about the founding of the Jesuit order, the Catholic Counterreformation, and the Council of Trent, he explains:

Luther, Calvin, and Grebel stressed salvation by grace alone; the council emphasized grace and human cooperation with God to avoid, in [Ignatius of] Loyola’s terms, “the poison that destroys freedom.” “Pray as though everything depended on God alone;” Ignatius advised, “but act as though it depended on you alone whether you will be saved.” (Kindle location 5346)

One should quickly and easily see the problem with this kind of thinking.2 Whether we’re using this concept in thinking about our own growth in godliness, encouragement to fellow believers, or in ministry to the lost, it is a failure to recognize that everything does depend on God, both in prayer and in practice.

Praying as though everything depends on God is right and true—but we also must work as though everything depends upon Him. Because everything does.

This is the truth of Philippians 2:12-13—that, as we work, God works through us. This is the reality of John 15:5—if we abide in Christ, we will bear much fruit. But apart from Him, we can do nothing. This is the fact of John 14:12—that we who believe will do the works Jesus does!3

There is no dependence upon us to get things done. God is not passive. Nor is He is impotent.

We work, knowing that it is God who works through us. We are instruments in the hands the master craftsmen, and joyfully so!

A cute soundbyte makes for a memorable quote, but if we don’t think about our words, we may also be acting as accidental double agents in the pulpit.


Photo credit: Normand Desjardins Café•Moka Personnel/Personal via photopin cc