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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Kindle deals for Christian readers

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

Also on sale:

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

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Today’s the last day to take advantage of these savings on three excellent Easter-related titles from Crossway:

Who the unchurched really are

Gene Veith:

Most evangelism programs, church growth tactics, and other attempts to reach the “unchurched” concentrate on Millennials, young urbanites, college types, and the suburban middle class.  But, as Robert Putnam reminds us, the demographic that is the most unchurched is the working class, the lower income non-college-educated folks.  A big segment of these blue-collar workers has just stopped going to church.  They are also, with the personal and family problems that Putnam documents, arguably, most in need of ministry.  This is ironic, since the working class used to be the biggest supporters of conservative Christianity.  And yet, I’m unaware of any concerted effort to reach them, other than individual pastors in these communities doing what they can.I’m as middle class as they come, but I have a lot of affinity with these folks, having grown up in rural Oklahoma and working on jobs that for me were temporary ways of paying for school but for them were their permanent livelihoods.  They are typically good-natured, hard-working, and admirable in many ways.  But I can see in my old friends–more accurately, the adult children of those friends–the break-down that Putnam documents.

Spectre

This has the potential to be a great deal of fun:

Just a good, human teacher

This is really good.

Parenting in a Hyper-Sexualized Culture

Heath Lambert:

Blind spots

Russ Ramsey:

am not the artist I think I am. Neither are you. Not completely anyway. All of us live with blind spots—realities in our lives and art and thinking we cannot see. We have them even in the endeavors we are most passionate about.

Such is the nature of a blind spot—I can’t see it. There are so many bits of information, maturity, perspective, and wisdom I have yet to obtain. They simply aren’t yet mine.

We Cannot Love God if We Do Not Love His Word

R.C. Sproul:

Recently I read some letters to the editor of a Christian magazine. One of them disparaged Christian scholars with advanced degrees. The letter writer charged that such men would enjoy digging into word studies of Christ’s teachings in the ancient languages in order to demonstrate that He did not really say what He seems to say in our English Bibles. Obviously there was a negative attitude toward any serious study of the Word of God. Of course, there are scholars who are like this, who study a word in six different languages and still end up missing its meaning, but that does not mean we must not engage in any serious study of the Word of God lest we end up like these ungodly scholars. Another letter writer expressed the view that people who engage in the study of doctrine are not concerned about the pain people experience in this world. In my experience, however, it is virtually impossible to experience pain and not ask questions about truth. We all want to know the truth about suffering, and specifically, where is God in our pain. That is a theological concern. The answer comes to us from the Scriptures, which reveal the mind of God Himself through the agency of the Holy Spirit, who is called the Spirit of truth. We cannot love God at all if we do not love His truth.

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The Ulrich von Liechtenstein Gospel

Paul Dunk:

I think we can relate to William. We want to be the Ulrich von Liechtenstein’s of our families, careers and relationships. We want to be the Ulrich von Liechtenstein of physical, emotional and spiritual health. We want the Ulrich von Liechtenstein good life.  As a result of chasing the dream via self-help-everything to transform ourselves from lowly Williams into Ulrich von Liechtenstein’s, we’ve developed an Ulrich von Liechtenstein gospel.

You don’t have to go

Matt Emerson

As a younger Southern Baptist who is also drawn to liturgical worship forms, I have to ask – is this move necessary? Is the only option for SBCers who feel affinity with liturgy and principled ecumenism to leave, for Canterbury or Geneva or Wittenberg? I believe the answer is no. Younger Southern Baptists, if you are drawn to liturgical forms, if you find attractive the principled evangelical ecumenism of other manifestations of Christ’s body, you can have that in Nashville. You can stay in the SBC. You don’t have to go.

6 Reasons Why Sexual Predators Target Churches

Tim Challies shares six from On Guard by Deepak Reju.

4 Types of Sermons to Avoid

Derek Thomas reminds of a number of different kinds of sermons that fail to, in Alec Motyer’s words, “display what is there.”

The Dreadful Loneliness of Life Without Scripture

Peter Jones:

 On a recent Oprah Winfrey show, Kristen and Rob Bell make a lavish use of “values language,” in an attempt to justify same sex marriage. Kristen stated: “Marriage, gay and straight, is a gift to the world because the world needs more not less love, fidelity, commitment, devotion and sacrifice.” Who does not want to see more love in the world, but do the terms like “love,” “commitment” and sacrifice” need a lot more definition? Do the millions watching Oprah deserve a better defense of biblical sexuality? Indeed, the “made-for-TV” superficiality of these arguments is staggering and is part of the trend in certain evangelical circles mentioned in my previous comment Evangelicalism in Crisis? to accept the homosexual agenda as perfectly in line with the true meaning of Christianity.

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What Difference Does an Inerrant Bible Make?

R.C. Sproul:

Does it matter whether the Bible is errant or inerrant, fallible or infallible, inspired or uninspired? What’s all the fuss about the doctrine of inerrancy? Why do Christians debate this issue? What difference does an inerrant Bible make?

What if Wes Anderson directed X-Men?

Stunning:

New Spurgeon bio by John Piper

20 years ago, John Piper shared a message drawing from the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon. Now, Desiring God has turned it into a small book, Charles Spurgeon: Preaching Through Adversity, which you can get for free.

How Do We Engage Someone Who is Neglecting the Gathering?

Good advice from Lore Ferguson.

We Are Called to be Irritating

Erik Raymond:

Christians are commanded to consider (pay attention to, be concerned for, look after, etc) someone and something. We are to be concerned for one another. This is a church directive for body life. And, we are to be concerned with stirring each other up.

What does this mean? It is an interesting word that means to irritate, provoke, or even exasperate. It’s actually used most frequently in a negative sense as in provoking someone to anger or irritation.

You Don’t Need a Bucket List

Randy Alcorn:

The term “bucket list” was popularized by the 2007 movie of that name. It’s an inventory of things people want to do before they “kick the bucket.” The idea is, since our time on earth is limited, if something is important for us to do, we have to do it now, because this is our only chance to do it.

This makes sense from a naturalistic worldview, one which doesn’t recognize any afterlife. It also makes sense from various religious worldviews that maintain there may be existence after death, but without resurrection and physical properties, and with no continuity between this life and the next. The one worldview in which the bucket list makes no sense is biblical Christianity.

3 reasons why reading the Bible feels like a chore

reading-bible

Christian, if studying the Bible isn’t really your thing, can we chat for a minute? While Christianity isn’t dependent upon our academic inclinations, nor our interest in reading in general—to suggest those who are illiterate, have a learning disability or simply aren’t big readers are excluded from the kingdom of God is ridiculous—all Christians should strive to be students of the Bible.

We are, after all, a people of the Book. We know God’s will, his character, and his promises through the Bible. And so, especially for those of us who have the means and ability to do so, this is a book that should be one we’re always eager to pick up. To read and study carefully to whatever capacity God has given us. To enjoy as though it were our favorite meal…

So why is it that reading the Bible seems like such a chore? While there are, no doubt, many reasons, here are three that I’ve seen crop up most frequently in my own life:

1. We are lazy. Let’s be honest, this is probably the key reason many of us struggle to read our Bibles. We don’t prioritize it the way we should. We choose other books instead. We choose television instead… This is not right. And yet, it’s so easy to fall into this trap, isn’t it? I can definitely attest that I’ve had seasons where this has been my problem—and it’s really dangerous because it’s so hard to get out of this trap, and often the approaches we take to doing so can cause even greater harm.

2. We treat it like a project. This is the second issue, and it’s related to the first. Many of us try to overcome our lackadaisical attitude to the Bible with aggressive reading plans. We want to read the Bible in a year, or ten times in a year, or the New Testament in a month… But that’s like trying to start your car in the dead of winter and immediately jump onto the highway without letting it warm-up. You may move (briefly), but you’ll ruin the engine. But reading the Bible is not a project. Spiritual dullness cannot be defeated by an exertion of willpower.

3. We are in a season of spiritual depression. Unlike a Barney Stinson’s views on mixtapes and despite what Joel Osteen may tell you, the Christian life is not all rise. Every day is not a Friday. Sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of a deep spiritual depression—one that just never seems to lift. Sometimes this situation comes from a prolonged season of battling against personal sin. Sometimes it’s from trying to remain faithful in difficult circumstances (I went through an extended period of time where I dreaded even getting up in the morning; this was because of circumstances I need not go into). Whatever the reason though, in these situations, we cannot find comfort, encouragement, or rest in the place we should find them. And so our weariness can lead to despair, and we struggle to push back the darkness. And as our shame grows, we grow silent, for fear of judging eyes.

So what’s the solution? 

For the first two, the solution begins with repentance. We need to repent of sinful attitudes toward the Bible, whether that is neglecting it or treating it as a project. We need to see our wrong attitudes as wrong. In order to begin to give the Bible its due, we ought to start simple. Read something. Don’t aim to read the Bible in a month. Just try to read a paragraph. Then another. And another. Take the time you need to take.

The third issue needs to be dealt with with a great deal of sensitivity. Those who are in this trap already feel a huge amount of guilt and shame for not being “good enough” as Christians. They don’t need to be told to do more gooder because that’s just not going to work. Instead, my challenge to them (as one who has experienced this myself) would be to open up about the struggle, for shame only thrives in secrecy. Tell someone who is close to you what you’re going through. Don’t ask them to fix the problem, but just to pray. And to keep praying. And for you to be praying as well. Admit where you’re at, for God already knows.

Most of all, be patient. This is not something that’s going to be overcome with a few prayers and a coffee cup verse. There will be relapses. There will be setbacks. You may never fully overcome it, but there will be small triumphs along the way (especially if you make if your habit to read the Psalms). Focus on those small wins. Focus on where you have seen God at work in the past, and recount them as David did in his darkest moments. Trust him to overcome this, for he surely will, either in this life or in glory.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s weekly deals center around devotionals:

Also check out:

10 things about Canada that shock first time visitors

This is a helpful (and mostly true) list for y’all.

6 Thoughts on Sacred Space

Nick Batzig:

When God created Adam, he set apart sacred space in which he would enter into fellowship with his newly created image bearer. Just as He had created time and space (Gen. 1:1-2), setting apart a portion of that time to be sacred unto Him, so the Lord set apart a portion of sacred space in which man would worship Him. While the story arc of Scripture is that of man’s fall from fellowship with God and of his great rebellion against the God who had created him for fellowship with Himself, the climax is the restoration of man to fellowship with Himself in the New Heavens and the New Earth–the renewed Garden paradise from which Adam was exiled. Consider the six following thoughts on the importance of sacred space in the Scriptures.

You Cannot Serve Both God and Theology

Marshall Segal:

But is money more spiritually dangerous than theology? The answer may be trickier than we think, especially within the numbing comfort of a proudly affluent and educated American Church. Money is a tangible, countable, often visible god. Theology, on the other hand — if it is cut off from truly knowing and enjoying God himself — can be a soothing, subtle, superficially spiritual god. Both are deadly, but one lulls us into a proud, intellectual, and purely cosmetic confidence and rest before God. Theology will kill you if it does not kindle a deep and abiding love for the God of the Bible, and if it does not inspire a desire for his glory, and not ultimately our own.

Do You Literally Interpret the Bible Literally?

Justin Taylor:

I am not a fan of linguistic legalism and I recognize the need for terminological shortcuts, but I am an advocate for clarity, and the use of an ambiguous term like literal can create confusion. It’s a single term with multiple meanings and connotations—which is true of many words—but the problem is that many assume it means only one thing.

Why Bible Typography Matters

This is 47 minutes long, but it’s very interesting.

10 banned names

I had no idea Tom was banned in Portugal…

How to lose the head, heart and hands of your faith

Whole Bible-Bavinck

What is the most widespread error in the church? There are oh, so many, of course: We have professing believers who say they love Jesus but hate the church, his bride. We have apparent Christians who call the work of Christ divine child abuse. We have church-going men and women who believe it doesn’t matter with whom they sleep, what media they consume, or where they go (and heaven help anyone who says otherwise).

These are all pretty serious things, to be sure. But they’re not the most consistently widespread problem. If anything, these are symptoms of the larger error. That error? The rejection of the Old Testament. Writing a century ago, in a time in church history very similar to our own, Herman Bavinck put it this way:

The worst and most widespread error is the rejection or neglect of the Old Testament. Marcionism repeatedly reemerged in the Christian church and plays a large role in modern theology as well. All this arbitrary use of Holy Scripture leads to one-sidedness and error in theology and to pathology in the religious life. In that setting the full and rich configuration of truth does not come to light. Either the person and work of the Father or of the Son or of the Holy Spirit is then sold short. Injustice is done to Christ either in his prophetic, or his priestly, or his royal office. The Christian religion loses its catholicity. The Christian head, heart, and hand are not harmoniously molded and guided by the truth. Only the whole Bible in its fullness preserves us from all these one-sidednesses. (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 1, 617)

I have never met a spiritually healthy, well-balanced Christian who neglects the Old Testament. Chances are, neither have you.

If we ignore the Old Testament, and the rich promise of Christ contained within it, we do so at our spiritual peril. If we teach that it’s no longer necessary, we ought to have millstones tied around our necks. If you overlook it, you impede your ability to respond to objections to it from non-Christians.

In other words, if you want to lose your heart, lose your hands or lose your mind, just ditch the Old Testament.

Take away the foundation and lose everything

Inspiration-Bavinck

There are certain statements that are trigger warnings for me—at least, when I see them made by a Christian writer, speaker or pastor. References to 1 Corinthians’ famous “everything is permissible” statements (but only because I almost always see them used in the exact opposite way Paul meant them). Nearly any time someone says Jesus doesn’t judge, so we shouldn’t either (again, because, it’s used in almost the opposite way it’s meant in Scripture). And when someone calls the Bible something like a “different kind of center,” or a people group’s collective and growing understanding of God, or some other such thing… oh boy.

When those kinds of statements come up, I usually know where the author or speaker is going, and it’s always to a bad place. Why? Because they’ve lost their footing, having abandoned the foundation of the Bible’s authority: its nature as “God-breathed,” or inspired.

Herman Bavinck understood this all too well, living through the rise of late 19th and early 20th century liberalism. And he knew exactly where it would lead:

There is in fact only one ground on which the authority of Scripture can be based, and that is its inspiration. When that goes, also the authority of Scripture is gone and done with. In that case, it is merely a body of human writings, which as such cannot rightfully assert any claim to be a norm for our faith and conduct. And along with Scripture—for the Protestant—all authority in religion collapses. All subsequent attempts to recover some kind of authority—say, in the person of Christ, in the church, in religious experience, in the intellect or conscience—end in disappointment. They only prove that no religion can exist without authority. Religion is essentially different from science. It has a certainty of its own, not one that is based on insight but one that consists in faith and trust. And this religious faith and trust can rest only in God and in his word. In religion a human witness and human trust is insufficient; here we need a witness from God to which we can abandon ourselves in life and in death. “Our heart is restless until it rests in Thee, O Lord!” (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 1, 463)

This is something we’ve got to get. The arguments we’ve seen re-emerge over the last 20 years or so, the positions put forward by the likes of Brian McLaren, Rob Bell,1 and the like, are little more than the recycling of 19th century (and earlier) arguments by those who’ve attempted to revere the Bible in a sense, while undercutting the foundation of its reverence. We want to treat the Bible as having some sort of limited authority. And yet, unless we take seriously the foundation of its authority—that is, unless we truly embrace its inspired nature in its fullest sense—we’re only going to be disappointed. And worse, if we persist down this road, we’ll be lost in utter darkness.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a whole bunch of great resources on sale, including:

  • Heroes of the Christian Faith teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • A Survey of Church History, Part 3: A.D. 1500-1620 teaching series by W. Robert Godfrey (DVD)
  • Mark by R.C. Sproul (ePub and MOBI)
  • Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching by various authors (ePub and MOBI)
  • The Promises of God by R.C. Sproul (Hardcover)

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

And finally, be sure to check out this great deal on a new curriculum for middle schoolers at the Westminster Bookstore.

Jesus and Scripture

Andrew Wilson:

Post-evangelicals often present the options as (1) an infallible Bible and an infallible Church, or (2) a correctable Bible and a correctable Church. But if we were to present these options to Jesus or Paul or Moses – or Gregory, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon and the rest – I suspect they would splutter in astonishment and tell us about option (3): an infallible Bible, and a correctable Church. That, surely, is the way to preserve divine authority and human humility; a word from God that never fails, and people that frequently do.

Today I stopped being afraid of the social media mob

Really appreciated this piece by Matthew Paul Turner.

The Worst Ever (Mis)Quotation Of The Bible?

David Murray, continuing his series reading through Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now:

The more we read and study the Bible, the more painful it becomes when we hear a verse quoted out of context and even used to advocate for the exact opposite of the verse in its context.

In reading through Joel Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now, this pain is fairly constant. But the worst context-ripping and heart-rending example is Osteen’s use of Colossians 3:2 in Part 1: Enlarge Your Vision.

7 ways handwriting can save your brain

This is really interesting (HT: Aaron Earls)

All I really want

Red Rubber Studios did a great job on this new music video for Deni Gauthier:

What to Do When We’re Prayerless

Jon Bloom:

If prayer is the native language of faith and we’re struggling with prayerlessness, then the first thing we need to do is look for a faith problem. There’s a faith breakdown somewhere and until we get that fixed, our problem will remain.

How do we fix this?