Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

B&H has a pile of books related to homeschooling on sale:

Also on sale:

9Marks sale at WTSBooks

Westminster Bookstore’s got a terrific sale on the entire 9Marks collection of books. You can get the complete 17 volume set for $125, or individual titles for 40 percent off their regular price. Go check it out!

What is Supernatural is Not Necessarily Mystical

Michael Kelley:

Christians deal in the realm of the supernatural all the time, even if we don’t recognize it. We believe the natural, the default, posture of the human heart is sinful. When we commit acts of sin, it’s a very natural thing for us to do because that’s our bent. It’s an expression of who we are. But when we believe the gospel, something supernatural happens. Our default changes. We begin to act in accordance with our new nature. We do things and think things and believe things and say things that are out of place in the natural order of the world.

I Thought Planned Parenthood Protected Family Values

Rosaria Butterfield:

And today, as I reflect on the outrage of Planned Parenthood, I think of my life.

I could have been Dr. Deborah Nucatola. I was groomed to be her. I could have been videotaped pausing between bites of arugula salad and salmon to pontificate on the price of a dead baby’s intact heart and lungs.

The Book of Numbers

This is cool:

The Distortions of Progressive Christians: How Religious Liberty is in Danger

Matthew Lee Anderson:

Many conservative Christians have taken to describing the current environment as one in which they are being persecuted for their faith. Some Progressive Christians, like Rachel Held Evans, have argued strenuously against such claims, pointing out that conservative evangelicals still wield an enormous amount of influence. Donald Miller said something similar last year, albeit in a much more slapdash way. And while I think Miller and Evans distort our current moment in serious ways, they have a point that conservative Christians need to hear.

Top 10 Résumé Mistakes from My Recent Children’s Minister Search

Eric McKiddie:

When I was serving for a premier catering company in Chicago during my undergrad days, there was a phrase we used to throw around regarding the presentation of the plate: they take the first bite with their eyes. I’ve found this axiom to be true in so many contexts of life, not least of which the résumé.

The following ten mistakes were on résumés actually submitted, oftentimes on more than one. I’m sure no one who reads this blog would commit a faux pas such as is listed below when applying for a church position, so I post these for entertainment purposes only.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

No Kindle deals for you today, but I do have a couple of notable books (and Bibles) worth considering:

Designed for Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice a new book edited by Owen Strachan and Jonathan Parnell will be released at the end of the month. It features chapters by Denny Burk, Brandon Smith, Joe Rigney, Trillia Newbell, Gloria Furman and a whole bunch of others. The paperback edition doesn’t release until the end of the month, but you can get the Kindle edition right now.

Also worth checking out is Westminster Bookstore’s sale on the Psalms in the ESV translation.

Will Millennials Be the Generation to Ban Abortion?

Chris Martin:

The turning-a-blind-eye approach to abortion that has persisted for decades, and there is real reason to think that will only continue among Millennials. The idea that individuals are not allowed to impose their religious, ethical, or otherwise convictional opinions upon others has never been stronger. Science may advance, minds may change, but Millennials continue to compel each other to keep their convictions to themselves.

 

Is Your Faith the Right Kind of Simple?

Mike Leake:

Sometimes I wonder if Skynrd’s mama hasn’t counseled many within the church. After all how many times have you heard something like this: “I don’t need none of that fancy book learnin’, just give me a simple faith.” What we mean by that is that we want a faith that we can understand—that we can wrap our minds around. We want just a plan and simple type of faith.

A Both-And Woman and Her Bible

Allison Burr:

I have sat alongside many puzzled Christians in Bible studies over the years, and I used to be the first among them. These struggles often center around the hard providences of God — how God wields his power and authority — either in the Scriptures or in the difficult corners of our lives. We begin by asking, “Well, if [insert painful, confusing, awful, inconvenient reality] is true, then how could God . . . ” The ellipses are replaced with “be good” or “allow this to happen” or “also declare this other seemingly contradictory reality to be true.”

This setting is where a both-and hermeneutic brings clarity and comfort — and not just to our minds, but into virtually every situation in life.

 

The evolution of Chuck Jones

How Should Christians Respond to Attacks and Insults?

R.C. Sproul:

Years ago, I received a letter from a friend who is a pastor at a church in California. In it, the pastor included a copy of an article that had appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Although the article included a photo of him standing in his church and holding his Bible, it was basically a vicious personal attack against him.

When I saw that picture and read that article, I felt a great deal of empathy for my friend because I had recently had a similar experience. A person I believed was my friend made some very unkind statements about me publicly, and word had gotten back to me. My feelings basically vacillated between despondency and anger, even though I knew I needed to respond with joy (Matt. 5:11–12).

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Both of Joe Thorn’s excellent books are on sale this week for $3.99:

Also on sale:

Jesus is on the wrong side of history

This is an older piece by Trevin Wax, but it’s well worth reading.

What if the baby isn’t healthy?

Micha Boyett:

My son Ace was born seven weeks ago. He is my third baby, a boy like his brothers. He has blue eyes and sandy brown hair that’s making way for blonde. He can already reach out and grab the toy that hangs over his head. He has rolled over twice (accidentally, I’m pretty sure).

Yet everything feels different. My pregnancy with him was different.

In December my husband and I received a prenatal diagnosis that shook us. Though we shared it with close friends and family, we didn’t tell anyone else.

Student in a School of Fools

R.C. Sproul Jr:

When I was a younger man I looked upon virtually every conversation as an opportunity for battle. As a college student I regularly called my dad after class and let him know of the great victories I imagined I had won. He, being wise, cautioned me—you can learn something from all of your professors. You’ll serve yourself better being a discerning student than a tilting Quixote. Trusting the teaching of my own father, I have sought to be just that, a discerning student.

The message of the Bible in a sentence

Dane Ortlund asked 26 pastors and scholars to give it a shot. This is what they came up with. Bonus points to Greg Beale for providing a paragraph while keeping it technically a sentence.

‘Apollo 13’: When Will We Be Going Back?

E. Stephen Burnett:

The film showcased Americans’ boredom with the space program … and today our disinterest in space exploration is even worse. Today the answers are the same: Not anytime soon, and likely no one alive today.

The film showcased Americans’ boredom with the space program — until astronauts’ lives were at risk — and today our disinterest in space exploration is even worse. As a Christian, this renews in me a groaning for lost opportunities but even more for a lost paradise.

I also ask what the film’s Lovell left unasked: If we’re refusing to go back, why is that?

The Fresh Prince theme as a blues song

YES!

HT: Aaron

The limits of love

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One of the greatest lies we tell children is a nursery rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I remember repeating this to myself as a little boy, over and over again, with tears running down my face, as the terrible things other kids said about me kept repeating in my head. I was desperate for it to be true.

It never was.

So I get how so many Christians feel living in a thoroughly post- or anti-Christian culture, as many of us do in the West. Recent political decisions only officially made legal what was already approved culturally. Those who hold to the traditional or biblical definition marriage have long been called intolerant, bigots, homophobes, and numerous other pejoratives. One website ran an entire article that existed only to direct the F-word (and I don’t mean “fundamentalist”) at us, and particularly politicians and political figures who voiced concerns about or opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage.

The intolerance of tolerance is at work.

The hurtful words are terribly discouraging. No one wants to be called a bigot, or a hate monger—no one. And yet, this is what is happening and will continue to happen until the West falls or Jesus returns, because we have to understand that love has its limits. There are places that, because we love people, we cannot go and ideas we cannot embrace or endorse.

I was reminded of this again by Sam Storms in his devotional, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3. In writing of Jesus’ commendation of the Ephesians, Storms describes them as a church that had “20/20 discernment.”

They hated evil—period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Whatever form evil took, whether ethical or theological, they stood resolute in their opposition. No compromise. No cutting of corners. Their love was revealed in their intolerance.… This was their most stellar achievement. No heretical concept could ever raise its ugly head in Ephesus without being decapitated by the swift stroke of biblical truth. (41)

The Ephesians understood that Christian charity could not give room to false teaching within the church. Whatever else was going on in the culture, whatever trials they would face, whatever persecution they would be forced to endure, they would; but they could not suffer the usurping or perversion of biblical truth. And, again, Jesus commended them for this. Why? Because, as Storms writes, Jesus hates moral and theological compromise.

Any appeal to grace to justify sin is repugnant to our Lord. Any attempt to rationalize immorality by citing the “liberty” we have in Christ is abhorrent to him and must be to us. True Christian love is never expressed by the tolerance of wickedness, whether it be a matter of what one believes or how one behaves. (43)

This is the position we find ourselves in today. The culture has spoken and, while we can (and I believe should) disagree with the outcome, we should at least acknowledge the reality. This means the hateful and hurtful words are going to keep coming, with a promise they’ll stop as soon as we are willing to stop believing what we believe. If we can just embrace same-sex marriage, and then polyamorous relationships, we can all get along. But is that the best way to demonstrate love to our unbelieving neighbors and our fellow believers?

No. Instead, we need to be willing to affirm that love has its limits. And just as the Ephesians were forced to in the face of the Nicolaitian heresy, we must ask what we must say no to for the sake of our devotion to Christ—and in order to demonstrate the love of Christ to all.

God’s plans are good (even when we don’t like them)

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There’s a verse that’s in every Christian household or office space (and not just because it’s in our Bibles). Maybe it’s on a coffee mug or a t-shirt. Perhaps a poster or a greeting card. Or perhaps it’s featured on a decorative throw or a tattoo. It’s the life verse of virtually every women’s ministry leader and children’s ministry director.

Of course, you know I’m referring to Jeremiah 29:11, and it’s assurance that God knows the plans he has for us, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

It’s a wonderful encouragement, isn’t it? We look at it and say, “Wow—God has a plan for me!” That plan, of course, is one we assume to be free from any sort of difficultly, strife or conflict. But to paraphrase the oft-quoted line—this verse you keep using; I do not think it means what you think it means.

When we read this verse, we typically do so through the lens of the western desire for prosperity, safety and security. That God’s plan obviously includes a full bank account, a big house and kids who remember to wash their hands after using the toilet. But as much fun as those things might be—especially the last one for the germaphobes out there—this isn’t really what’s promised by God to the Israelites. And make no mistake: this verse offers a promise to them, first and foremost.

Although we all (should) know this, we can’t forget that Jeremiah 29:11 comes as part of a larger conversation between God and the newly exiled Jewish people. After years of rejecting God, of consistently rebelling against him and his commands, Jerusalem and the nation of Judah was finally overtaken by  Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, and Jeremiah was there to witness the whole thing. As they sat in Babylon, many so-called prophets came to them with messages promising a swift return to Jerusalem and a restoration of their fortunes.

Surely, God wouldn’t leave the people in exile, away from the promised land, for more than a few months. Maybe a couple of years, tops. But any longer than that, come on…

And yet, of these prophets God said, “Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord” (8-9). They were liars, deceivers who preyed on the people’s hopes and dreams. But their promises and prophecies were empty babbling. They were fanciful ideas from their own minds, and nothing more.

Instead of a swift return, God had something else in mind for his wayward people:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer. 29:5-7)

So, rather than telling them not to unpack their belongings, God says get comfortable: Settle in Babylon. Get jobs. Get married. Have children. Be a blessing to this city, because you’re going to be here for a while. For the rest of your lives, in fact.

And it’s in this context that God says to his people, “For I know the plans I have for you.”

Despite this being primarily a promise to the Israelites, there is a principle that is true for us as well. Though, to be honest, I doubt us Christians feel anymore joyful about it than the Israelites of the day. Sometimes we’re in communities and context where we’d rather not be. It’s difficult to imagine trying to be a faithful Christian in an incredibly harsh context—one where you can be killed simply for your beliefs. And yet, for many, that’s the reality they live with. But God is still good, isn’t he?

Even here in North America, there are certainly times when we might prefer to hunker in the bunker or move somewhere far away from all the people who need Jesus because they really don’t like this Jesus we represent. And yet, it’s to them God has sent us. And he has a plan for us here: it is to serve those in need. To proclaim truth of the gospel. To do all we can to encourage all around us to thrive, and to be “a light to those who are in darkness” (Rom. 2:19b). To seek the wellbeing and welfare of our communities because those who are perishing need to see that Christians really do care for them.

In other words, God’s plan for us right now is to be his ambassadors in a foreign land. And God’s plans are always good (even when we don’t like them). We aren’t to sit on our duffs and just wait until Jesus returns. We are to go about the work he has commanded us. Because that is the plan he has for us—and it is the best future any of us could hope for.


Adapted from an earlier post written in October 2009.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few classic books for your consideration today:

The Problem of Emeth in The Last Battle

Aaron Earls:

Clearly, we should remember The Chronicles of Narnia is fiction. Lewis is using a fictional world to present pictures and myths that point to real truth. We should not necessarily expect a one-to-one correspondence.

But beyond that, I think three facts from within the Narnian world should be kept in mind when evaluating the issue of Emeth’s admission into Aslan’s country.

What’s up with the Witch of Endor

Stephen Dempster on 1 Samuel 28:

This text raises all kinds of theological questions. Did the witch have the ability to bring the departed spirits of the dead back to predict the future for the living, or was this simply a demonic delusion? Does not only God have the power to predict the future? Or do departed spirits or evil spirits? What about other sources of revelation besides the Word of God? Does this text not prove that such exist?

Forgiveness and the Christian’s Piety

Donny Friederichsen:

What is the danger of withholding forgiveness or failing to ask for forgiveness? Again, Watson is helpful in seeing the necessity of forgiveness as part of the Christian’s piety. He uses a colorful but, I believe, very appropriate metaphor in describing this problem. He describes an unforgiving spirit as an “obstruction in the body” or “bowels which are shut up.” The person who will not forgive is like one whose colon is impacted to such an extent that excrement can no longer exit. Grotesque as that might sound, quite literally, the unforgiving person is full of it!

The Precious Gift of Being Offended

Trevin Wax analyzes Ian McEwan’s commencement address at Dickinson College:

It’s helpful for McEwan to make his case by appealing to the common ground (he hopes) all will agree on, no matter our political or religious persuasion. That’s why it’s instructive that he issues this warning in a way that crosses these lines. It’s in danger from all sides,and therefore it must be protected by all sides.

Why does free speech matter so much? Because “freedom of expression sustains all the other freedoms we enjoy,” he says. “Without free speech, democracy is a sham.” McEwan compares the Western world to free speech in other parts of the globe, or rather, the lack of it. He diagnoses the condition of free expression as “desperate” in many parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East, Asia, and in much of Africa.

How Can Millions of People All Be with Jesus in Heaven and Receive Personal Attention?

Randy Alcorn:

Though it’s possible we may cover vast distances at immense speeds in God’s new universe, I don’t believe we’ll be capable of being two places at once. Why? Because we’ll still be finite. Only God is infinite.

Because the resurrected Christ is both man and God, the issue of whether He can be in more than one place at the same time involves a paradox not only in the future, but also in the present.

Links I like

Links

Elisabeth Elliot (1926–2015)

Elisabeth Elliot, wife of evangelist Jim Elliot and celebrated author, died yesterday morning (June 15, 2015). Several Christian leaders paid their respects with some lovely (and informative) posts including:

Yoga, Hospitality, and Cultural Appropriation

I’m glad to see an author wrestling with whether or not yoga should be practiced by Christians (though I suspect we would differ on our conclusions if I’m reading the post correctly).

Reasons Why We Don’t Read Our Bibles

Erik Raymond:

Most people when asked about their Bible reading say: I have been really busy. This may be the truth; people are very busy. However, it is not the reason. I think we can distinguish between realities and reasons. Those same people who are really busy do have the time to eat food and sleep. I know people who have their entire day (and evening) mapped out for them. They are extremely busy; yet they still read their Bibles. There is time for even the busiest of us. However, others who claim busyness also are up to date on the news, watch movies, use social media, exercise, and a host of other things. In pursuit of a true diagnosis here, let’s be honest: none of us are truly too busy to read the Bible. We may be busy but we choose to put the Bible aside for one reason or another.

Let me give you a few reasons why many Christians do not regularly read their Bibles.

Don’t Return To Your Vomit

Geoffrey Kirkland offers some helpful points here in considering our application of Proverbs 26:11.

Why Bloggers Are Calling it Quits

Amy Julia Becker:

Stepping away from the very platforms that shaped them and popularized their careers, these celebrities raise questions about the future of blogging in particular and of social media in general. In announcing their departures, Whedon, Sullivan, and Armstrong all mention wanting to move away from the barrage of “haters” who leave their reckless disagreements and insults in comment sections and replies.

You know they’re not in conflict, right?

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It’s probably safe to assume that any time the “religion vs. Jesus” thing comes up, I’m going to wind up annoyed. Some Christian gobbledygook of this persuasion popped up in my Twitter feed the last night, this time on how to use the Bible—find out what it says and follow that, or find out how it points to Jesus and follow him.

Now, before I go any further, I agree with the whole “do vs. done” element of the general argument. And I also firmly believe you should absolutely read the Bible with an eye to how it points to Jesus because he is the one we not merely follow, but worship as God. If you don’t read your Bible this way, you’re not reading it as a Christian (he says, preaching to the choir).

But this whole “follow the Bible” vs “follow Jesus” thing… Can we just not, please?

Let’s be honest, this sort of either/or—either follow what the Bible says or follow Jesus—isn’t really all that helpful. It’s actually kind of dumb. Let’s not forget:

Jesus followed commands in the Bible. Jesus was a devout Jew. Devout Jews kept the Law. Jesus kept the Law perfectly, as no one else did or could.

Jesus gives us commands. It’s true. “Follow me”, and “abide in me” are commands. Not only that, he tells us to pray (and even says “like this”), to love others, to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s… He even says “if you love me, you will obey me.” Those don’t sound like suggestions, do they?

The commands Jesus gives us are in the Bible. At least, that’s where they were the last time I checked. (Yep, still there.)

We are expected to do what we’re told in the Bible. When we read that we are to “love your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself”, it’s not a suggestion. It’s an imperative, which means we are to do it. Repent and believe? Yep, that’s another one we are expected to do. Make disciples? That one too. Submit to one another out of love for Christ? Ditto. Have nothing to do with false gods? You know it. These are things we are to do, as obeying the commands of God1 is evidence of our love for Christ.

Pitting Jesus against the Bible comes across like a kid trying to pit mom and dad against one another. The only one it’s going to go badly for is the kid.

So, yeah.

If we could never do that again, that would be super.

Lost in Transmission

lost-transmission

After writing online daily for six years, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: slander sells.

If you want to get people’s attention, you’ve got to be willing to go for the click bait… or at least, that’s what I keep seeing other people do. Honestly, when controversies come about, the last thing I want to do is write (or read for that matter) is 14 articles on why so-and-so is a gospel-denying liberal who probably voted for Obama and would gladly do so again, or whatever it is that people are doing this week.

Although my example is a bit ridiculous (though, sadly, not by much), I’ve seen the approach doesn’t actually help with encouraging discussion and offering correction. Instead, it causes people—particularly offenders and defenders—to dig their heels in and double-down. Even if the people who are angrily blogging are right about whatever they’re writing about, the vitriol with which they write obscures their point.

This is something I appreciated about Nicholas Perrin’s tact in Lost in Transmission. This relatively short book was released a number of years ago to address the criticisms of Bart Erhman, he of Misquoting Jesus fame (so it might be strange to see something close to resembling a review of it at this stage).

The challenge for Christians

Perrin has two goals in this book: the first is to challenge Christians to not be frightened of challenges to their faith. For, “when people succumb to that temptation of ignoring challenges to their faith, they are in the end demonstrating that they are more committed to the feeling of having a lock on truth than they are to truth itself” (XXI).

This is something that too many of us, I suspect, would affirm yet practically deny. How quickly do we get our back up when someone challenges our position on a particular issue, regardless of significance? Are we able to engage thoughtfully with critique or do we immediately get our rage on?

There isn’t an easy answer to this question, at least not for me. I know there have been far too many times when I’ve behaved like an arrogant so-and-so because I thought I was right (and sometimes I even was). But my “rightness” was really just being unwilling to be challenged. And this simply will not do: if we’re serious about the truth, then we need to be serious about the truth. If we’re unwilling to be challenged, how do we expect to grow in our faith?

The unknowable Jesus

Second, Perrin wants to demonstrate why we need not fear—and he does this by illustrating the insufficiency of the challenges put forward by Erhman. But he doesn’t do this with mockery, but civil engagement. It is clear he’s read Erhman carefully, for he understands the heart of the matter. As a scholar, Erhman long ago succumbed to the “deeply ingrained pressure toward historical agnosticism (we can’t know what Jesus really said)” (60). This, in turn fuels religious agnosticism—that if we can’t know what Jesus said, we can’t know if what he said was true and therefore we can’t know who he really is.

If we can know what Jesus said, that puts us in a position whereby we must decide on Jesus. Either he was who he and his followers claimed him to be, or he was not. But if we cannot get back to Jesus because his words and very identity have been all but lost in transmission, then this keeps alive a corresponding agnosticism when it comes to weighing Jesus’ claims against other counteroffers. (60-61)

Now, even in his many errors, Erhman has long been a defender against those who would try to argue that we cannot know if Jesus even existed at all (something many of his critics have even given him praise for). Erhman’s issue is not Jesus’ existence, but whether we can know much, if anything, about him.

The transmuted Jesus

Thus, he offers the gnostic writings in all their peculiar glory as alternative “Christianities” that didn’t gain prominence simply because the sects promoting what we now consider orthodoxy won the fight. But, as Perrin writes, “it was not the Christians who were sitting in the second-century equivalent of smoke-filled rooms, cutting deals as to what constituted right belief and what should be in the canon” (160).

Power belonged to the Romans, not to the Christians. But the Gnostics had nothing to fear from Rome:

The Gnostics wanted to have Jesus, but at the very point at which identifying with Jesus’ mission became politically or socially awkward, the Gnostics had a way of transmuting Jesus into their own ideal of a starry-eyed mystic or Greek philosopher. (161)

It’s easier to turn Jesus into something other than Jesus than to follow Jesus when it’s not advantageous. This is what we’re seeing in our own day as people lament the decline of Christianity in the West. But that’s not what’s happening: people who didn’t believe anyway are now just admitting they don’t believe. There’s no social benefit to professing to be Christian (at least culturally), so it’s better to not do it at all.

Engaging with respect and what this book still has to teach us

As I said before, this is a relatively old book—and, honestly, I’d recommend The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Köstenberger and Kruger ahead of this if you’re looking for an evangelical critique of Erhman. But it’s it’s still one worth reading. Why? Because although it is not as thorough a refutation as some might like, in reading it, you get to learn how to approach controversial or destructive teaching with respectful engagement.

This is something I’ve tried to do for the majority of my time as a blogger (although I know there are times when I’ve failed in it). Nevertheless, it is the approach I prefer to take when possible.

Probably the most difficult aspect of this is the fact that this sort of engagement requires actually reading opposing viewpoints carefully and fairly. If anything, this is probably the most difficult thing to do. It’s easy to pick up a book by someone like Rachel Held Evans1 and have pretty good sense of what it’s going to be about going in. It’s quite another to go in knowing we’re likely going to disagree with it, and still do our best to give it a fair reading.

That’s what I want to see when I engage with the ideas of others. It’s what I want to see when any Christian seriously engages with anyone’s thoughts. Ad hominem attacks, mockery, and potentially jumping to conclusions… those are easy, and lazy, and really have no place in the Christian life. But to engage with someone else’s thoughts, and to actually try to understand where they’re coming from and be able to articulate it well enough that my “opponent” could say, “Yes, that’s what I believe”—to contend without being contentious—is much more difficult. It takes a great deal more patience, which, in all honesty is the most difficult part for me (again, primarily because it is so much easier to not). But I think it’s worth it. While there might be better rebuttals of Erhman on the market (and there are), there are few that provide as helpful an example of respectful engagement and disagreement.


Title: Lost in Transmission? What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus
Author: Nicholas Perrin
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2009)

Buy it at: Amazon

You don’t always realize you’re thirsty

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It hit me last weekend as I was doing some (unfortunately) last minute prep for children’s ministry. I read my assigned text (Luke 24:36-49 for those wondering), not so much looking to pull it apart and figure out how to make a message out of it, but just to read it. And I realized something: I’ve been incredibly neglectful about spiritual health of late.

You know how you don’t always realize you’re thirsty until you actually have a glass of water? It’s kind of like that—going through my normal routine, not realizing I’ve been a bit dehydrated. And while it’s great to acknowledge stuff like this—to be real like people from Topeka—it’s not enough to say “this is where I’m at right now.” Instead, I actually need to do something about it. So here’s what I’m doing, starting today:

  • I’m putting my reading plan for the year on-hold in order to focus more intentionally on reading my Bible (sorry Bavinck!).
  • I’m deleting a few time-suck apps from my phone and iPad in order to avoid distractions.
  • I’m starting simple: reading through of John’s gospel, with a notebook handy. No timeline or anything like that. Just read it until this gospel has sufficiently mastered me.

As I’m working through the text, I’ll be sharing a few of my personal reflections here. As you can tell, this is not earth-shattering stuff. It’s pretty entry-level from some people’s standards. Yet, this is kind of basic reorientation is what I sorely need (and I suspect I’m not alone). Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m thirsty. I need a drink of water.


Photo credit: Splashy Glass via photopin (license)

Get grounded! (For the Church)

read-bible

My new series at For the Church, “Letters to a New Believer,” continues. The first post addressed the dangers of rushing into leadership roles. The second takes a step back and addresses a foundational issue: getting grounded in the Bible:

When my wife and I first became Christians, we had a lot to figure out. Up until that point, we’d been more or less your typical non-Christian couple: we met in college, moved in together halfway through, got engaged (but didn’t set a date for several years), eventually bought a house… and then we met Jesus.

And it was exactly as awkward as you’re imagining. (But we’ll get to that another time.)

During that time, though, God was very kind to us as we started figuring out what the “now what” of our conversion. We were connected to a local church where there were a lot of very kind people. The pastor worked with us to make the mess of our lives make sense as Christians, though he was kind of flying by the seat of his pants with some of it. But as much as we saw God pouring out grace upon us in this time, we were in danger. I was in danger.

…I read books like Velvet Elvis, Searching for God Knows What, and Blue Like Jazz, many of which were well written but had deep theological problems that I couldn’t recognize. I read memoirs by celebrity pastors that had no business writing memoirs, and did nothing to help me get a clear picture of Christian character. Our friends sat up discussing NOOMA videos, but never saw the hopelessness of their messages. Many young men in our church talked about what it meant to be Christian men, which somehow meant going on spirit quests to kill dragons while building sheds with nothing but duct tape and our own tenacity. We listened to lectures on how we needed to be less concerned with building programs and evangelistic rallies, and more concerned with making sure people had clean water to drink.

But you know what few of us were doing during all that? We weren’t grounding ourselves in the faith. We weren’t reading our Bibles, at least to the degree we ought to have been.

Keep reading at For the Church.

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The fire of Jesus and the patience of Paul

Trevin Wax:

If you were to pick someone in the New Testament who most resembles a ”hellfire and brimstone” preacher, it would probably be John the Baptist, the prophet who baptized Jesus, and about whom Jesus said no one greater had been born. We like to caricature offensive evangelists as if they are weirdos holding up signs saying, “Turn or burn!” But the testimony we receive about John isn’t far from that. His words are pointed; his call to repentance is clear; his clothing is strange. The way John prepared the way for the Lord was by denouncing all kinds of sin: personal, social, and sexual. He called out the immorality of the king and lost his head for it.

Aside from John, Jesus best fits the description of a “hellfire and brimstone” preacher, even more than Paul. Just read the New Testament and you’ll often find the red letters to be more fiery than the letters of Paul.

Getting Bored With the Right Things

Jared Wilson:

Whether it’s outrage about the sinful state of popular media—whatever new scandal the news people want you to get mad about—or fear about the declining state of our political process—”It’s the Democrats!”; “No, it’s the Republicans!”; “No, it’s politicians!”—or just the crushing anxiety of everyday demands and stresses, in the flesh we are like the disciples in that boat, thinking the skies are crashing down on us as if God is not in control, as if all sin will not be judged, as if justice will not prevail, as if the church will not endure, as if the Spirit is not ever-present and all-powerful, as if our hopes are pinned to what happens to our bodies and bodies politic. But when it comes to the things of the gospel, we can barely keep ourselves awake.

But not Jesus. He has the right priorities. When it comes to the temptations of earthly things, the temporal stresses of cultural idolatry, he is practically stoic, uninterested.

How to Prevent Brotherly Love

Erik Raymond:

If we are going to persevere this brotherly love amid adversity we need to know what the problem is. What impedes brotherly love? What derails it? What suffocates it?

In short: selfishness.

Ministering to the Mobile

Nick Batzig:

During the first three years, I allowed myself to become sinfully frustrated by this aspect of our church plant; it felt like I was trying to do college ministry while having to establish a local church. On one occasion, while venting my frustrations, a friend looked at me and said, “What are you complaining about? Think about foster care parents. At best they hope to love the kids they are entrusted with, move them on to a better home and never see them again.” It was like getting hit in the face with a bag of bricks. That was a turning point for me. Instead of viewing the situation as something negative, I learned to view it from the perspective of a foster care parent. In addition to learning to change the perspective by which I viewed the situation, I began to realize all the benefits of ministering to a mobile community, such as the military. Here are 5 benefits about being in a place where you minister to the mobile military.

The missing conviction of developing leaders

Eric Geiger:

If we look at Moses and Joshua, his successor, we see conviction for developing leaders in one and lacking in the other. And we also see that the implications of either possessing or lacking a conviction for development are huge.

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Zondervan’s put Brian Croft’s Practical Shepherding series on sale for $2.99 each:

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Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

Preston Sprinkle:

Most people answer this question either with an adamant “Yes!” or passionate “No!” Too often, though, both sides fail to understand or represent the other side. Not everyone who says that the Bible contains contradictions is an angry, arrogant, card-carrying atheist. And not everyone who believes there aren’t any contradictions is a backwoods, unscientific, raging fundamentalist with his head in the sand.

 The God of Justice Hates False Reports

Kevin DeYoung:

lease, please, please, let us be more careful with our words. Let our blogs be based on knowledge and our tweets be founded on facts. Let us be among the last to speak our minds if we are not one of the first to know the truth. Let us not confuse a social media scroll with actual research. Hearing a report is not the same as the right to speak.

10 Things Young Singles in Romantic Relationships Ought to Know

Yes!

Do You Have a Dysfunctional Relationship with God?

Erik Raymond:

What is so troubling to me is how many professing Christians have a similar relationship with God, let’s call it a dysfunctional relationship. In every counseling situation and in an alarmingly high rate of regular conversation with Christians, I have observed that many people do not pray regularly, read their Bibles devotionally, or prioritize the Lord’s Day gathering of the church.

Being an iceberg pastor

Andrew Haslam:

But there is one rule that I think ought to underpin every pastor’s understanding of his calling, which is that he needs to be an iceberg. What do I mean? Simply this: that whatever public ministry he engages in (that bit above the surface) needs to be built upon a lifetime of preparation, growth, character, learning, and reliance on God (the mass under the surface). Public prayers ought to be a taste of how he prays in private. Preaching ought to be the cream scraped off the top of his brain.

What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?

bible-homosexuality

Few issues cause more handwringing among Christians in our day than that of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. For some, it’s not a lack of clarity on what they believe, but about how to express it without being accused of being bigots, homophobes or hate mongers. So many in this group, because they are uncertain of how to speak winsomely, say nothing.

For others, the issue itself is extremely cloudy. They don’t really know or aren’t really sure what, if anything, the Bible says about the issue, and how to interpret what’s there. So when they read the arguments of affirming or revisionist authors, they have no idea how to respond or what to think. And because they aren’t grounded, they risk falling into serious error.

You can see why pastor and author Kevin DeYoung would be compelled to write a book on the subject then, can’t you? Which is why What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? exists. In this book, he wants to bolster the faith of those who know what they believe, but are unsure of how to communicate. He wants to bring clarity to those for whom the situation seems murky. And he wants to challenge those who, flying under the banner of Christ, would seek to revise what the Bible really says about homosexuality.

Where you start affects what you ask

Divided into two parts, DeYoung begins by first examining the texts which directly speak to humanity’s design and homosexual practice: Genesis 1-2, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18, 20, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. The inclusion of Genesis 1-2 might surprise some, since it is the creation account, but including it makes complete sense. After all, we can’t truly understand what the Bible says about homosexuality without first understanding how God created human beings.

For the Christian, there is nothing more basic than this: humans were created unique in all of creation—the man and the woman were made in the image and likeness of God. They were made to be something like him, as unity in diversity. And this is repeated referenced all throughout the Bible. It is the foundation and framework of marriage in Ephesians 5, and in Jesus’ own teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:4-6. It is a picture of the gospel, and a type of the marriage that is to come in the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 19). Thus, DeYoung writes,

Marriage, by its very nature, requires complementarity. The mystical union of Christ and the church—each “part” belonging to the other but neither interchangeable—cannot be pictured in marital union without the differentiation of male and female. If God wanted us to conclude that men and women were interchangeable in the marriage relationship, he not only gave us the wrong creation narrative; he gave us the wrong metanarrative. (32)

DeYoung’s point here is pretty simple: how you view the male-female relationship is inevitably going to influence whether the validity of same-sex marriage is even a question in your mind. If you function, as some Christians do, within the complementarian framework of gender—that is, each gender is uniquely designed to perform separate, but complementary functions—honestly, you’re probably not asking any questions about whether or not homosexual practice is compatible with Christian belief. In this framework, the two are not interchangeable, and therefore homosexual practice cannot be compatible with Christian belief. The conversation, therefore, shifts more toward answering the challenge winsomely.

For the egalitarian, however, the challenge is significantly different. If you believe that gender distinctions fundamentally have no bearing on your role and responsibility, you’re more than likely having to deal first with the compatibility issue. I don’t say this to disparage those who do hold this viewpoint, but merely to show that what we believe about male-female relationships may have drastic affects on our starting point on this issue (and potentially our end point).

What’s the fruit we’re talking about?

Part two of the book focuses on answering the common objections to the historic orthodox view of homosexuality:

  • the Bible’s limited discussion of homosexuality in general;
  • the cultural distance argument (that is, the kind of homosexuality the Bible talks about isn’t the kind revisionists advocate the inclusion of);
  • our lack of condemnation of sins such as gluttony and divorce outside of the biblically permissible reasons;
  • the church being a safe place for broken people and sinners;
  • being on the wrong side of history;
  • the fairness of encouraging same-sex attracted Christians to commit to life-long celibacy; and
  • love as the overriding attribute and characteristic of God.

Each topic, as should be expected, is handled very carefully, though DeYoung is not afraid to be a little jabby in places. On this point, it’s important to remember that DeYoung is not being hostile toward those who experience same-sex attraction, nor is he particularly hostile toward revisionist authors. What troubles him greatly—and shines through on every page of this book—is his overriding concern about the seemingly blind acceptance of false teaching in our midst, and the diminishment of the authority of Scripture as a result.

This is especially apparent when DeYoung writes on the fairness issue, countering the oft-cited “good fruit/bad fruit” claims of of Matthew Vines and other authors who ask, “If embracing their sexuality were really a step away from God… why are so many ‘gay Christians’ spiritually flourishing?” (116) In other words, how can it be wrong if it’s yielding “good fruit”?

The problem, DeYoung argues, is that the definition of “good fruit” proposed is wrong. In revisionist writing, experience has a tendency to trump the what Scripture says. Thus, the good fruit is fulfillment, satisfaction or personal happiness. It is a feeling. This is necessary for us to remember in a culture driven by experience—what we feel is not unimportant, but we cannot escape the fact that as fallen human beings with hearts and minds corrupted by sin, our feelings will lie to us. “The heart wants what the heart wants” is true enough; however, what the heart wants is not always what the heart needs. Tim Keller said it well in a recent conference message, when the heart wants something, the mind will find it reasonable and the emotions find desirable. Thus, we should probably be a little more clear about fruit is, biblically.

Instead of a feeling, Matthew 7:21 reminds us, good fruit is obedience. One only bears fruit when doing the will of the Father. Thus, if one is doing something contrary to the will of God, it is bad fruit, regardless of what we feel.  We must remember “there are no genuinely healthy trees apart from obedience to Christ and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-24)” (118).

Falling on deaf ears

As true as this is, and as beneficial as it is to be reminded of it, the reality is, as much as we might want them to, the revisionists aren’t likely to heed the warning DeYoung issues in this book. As I read the book, I kept thinking of how they might attempt to refute his claims. To be sure, those who hold the affirming position of same-sex relationships will almost certainly stand against it’s message, but those who do will be doing so on a shaky foundation.

The place I could see those standing in opposition to this book’s message appealing to most readily is experience.Because DeYoung doesn’t deal with same-sex attraction personally, one could argue, he doesn’t have a basis for writing this book. It’s a desperate argument, and a poor one, but one could still attempt to make the case. However, we should always remember that experience does not trump the Bible. Experience, as I said earlier, doesn’t supersede truth. And one does not need firsthand experience of something to be able to speak intelligently about it. Do we really expect pastors to develop a porn addiction before they can speak out against it? Or get divorced? Or become a drunkard?

And even if the argument were valid, one could just as easily point to Sam Allberry’s excellent book, Is God anti-gay?, which largely makes the same case as What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?—but he does so as a man who experiences same-sex attraction. Nevertheless, no matter how winsomely communicated, and no matter how rigorously defended, revisionists will likely remain entrenched in their position, despite its intellectual and theological dishonesty.

Pastoral responses and an urgent plea

Whether they are uncertain of what to believe, or simply struggle to effective communicate the truth, this book will be a great help to its readers. What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? offers clarity on disputed texts, pastoral responses to the common arguments, and most importantly, an urgent plea to hold fast to the truth in the face of mounting pressure to compromise. Lord willing, we will all carefully consider what DeYoung has to say in this book.


Title: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Publisher: Crossway (2015)

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon