Who are the false teachers?

snake

The whole concept of false teachers and false teaching is one that makes many Christians squirm. We don’t like to think about the idea that there are people who are actively trying to deceive believers, to turn them away from the truth of the Christian faith. But all one has to do is look around at a Christian bookstore and you can see it—deception is present.

So who are they?

Anytime someone writes on this topic, it’s tempting to name names. Tim Challies has been profiling a number of them over the last several weeks, for example, looking at false teachers throughout history and up to our present day. Making the cut are luminaries such as Benny Hinn, Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White, Pelagius, Arius… even the Pope made the cut!

Trying to make a list can be a double-edged sword. One danger is becoming too narrow, letting a secondary issue take precedence and become the measure of orthodoxy (think: egalitarianism vs complementarianism, or Calvinism vs Arminianism). A second is being too open, lacking any firm criteria upon which to make a judgement about orthodoxy whatsoever.

And it’s this error that I want to challenge in particular. When you start to examine the nature of false teaching, it tends to consistently focus on three primary areas:

The nature and character of God (including the person of Christ).

I wrote about this in a bit more detail in Contend, but imagine you’re standing dominoes up in a line to watch them fall. You’ve set up all your pieces just so and you’re ready to push the lead one. If you’ve got that first domino in the right place, when you knock it down, the chain reaction can begin, with every properly situated piece falling in exactly the right way. But if your first domino is pointing in the wrong direction or is placed too far away from the others, it’s just not going to work.

Our understanding of God is kind of like that. If we get God wrong, nothing else will truly fall in place. We won’t understand the gospel and there will be no energy or momentum to drive us forward into a life of fruitful labor to the glory of God. Thankfully, due to the immeasurable gift of the Bible, we have everything we need to get that first “domino” right. Indeed, if we begin to grasp even the most basic truths regarding God’s nature and character, that changes everything.

What this means for us is grasping as comprehensive picture of God as we can from Scripture—we see Him as immanent (He is personal and knowable), transcendent (He is far above us in every meaningful way) and Triune (He is one in essence and three in persons). He is many things—loving, jealous, just, and merciful… but undergirding all of this is his holiness. It is this fact that reminds us that God is perfect and distinct from the world He has made, it calls on us to pay attention to all He is. So we don’t take one aspect of His character at the expense of another—love doesn’t trump justice and vice versa; instead, we see God’s love as holy and His justice as holy. They spring from the same source. They are perfect and wonderful and glorious.

And this is what false teachers consistently attack. They strive to make God smaller, more distant, less intimidating… Honestly, if the thought of standing before God in His glory doesn’t make you want to wet yourself in terror a little bit, you probably don’t understand the God of the Bible.

The gospel.

Ask “what is the gospel” to 100 people, and you’re likely to get 101 answers. But the gospel, in its most basic and essential form, is this: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

There’s much that could be said about this, but notice the key elements: Christ died, and more specifically, He died to pay the penalty for our sins). He was buried, meaning He was truly dead. And He was raised to life again physically—not spiritually, not emotionally, not in our hearts or any such notion.

Without these things, there is no gospel, period. And when someone fudges on any of these, a different gospel is preached, and it’s one that damns its teachers to hell (Gal. 1:9). Yet this is what we consistently see in false teaching—men and women who make the gospel about something other than what Christ has done, and make it about giving us an example to follow, or giving us a Jesus who didn’t physically rise from death… But according to Scripture, such things are nonsense.

The authority of the Bible.

The final consistent point of opposition is the Bible itself. Notice how even with His gospel summary above, Paul consistently pointed back to the Scriptures—meaning, these things that happened to Jesus, God said would happen in His Word. And throughout the Bible, we see this kind of emphasis on the Bible’s authority and trustworthiness. Two examples:

Peter says that “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).  And this prophetic word, he says, was not produced “by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Paul, likewise, describes all Scripture as “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

But look throughout and you’ll find this repeated emphasis on the authority of Scripture. And this is what false teachers consistently strive to undermine, even before they’ll go after the nature of God or the gospel. They do it with appeals to experience and emotion as authoritative, and arguments designed to obscure the clarity of the Bible… it all amounts to the same trick the serpent played in the beginning, asking “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1)

Thankfully, we have a “more sure” word than one that can be obscured easily. In the Bible, we have something we can rely on and trust. Kevin DeYoung, commenting on 2 Peter 1, says it well:

We do not follow myths. We are not interested in stories with a nice moral to them. We are not helped by hoping in spiritual possibilities which we know to be historically impossible. These things in the gospel story happened. God predicted them. He fulfilled them. He inspired the written record of them. Therefore we ought to believe them. Nothing in all of the Bible was produced solely by the human will. God used men to write the words, but these men did their work carried along by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is an utterly reliable book, an unerring book, a holy book, a divine book.

So who are the false teachers out there? Look at how a teacher views God, the gospel, and the Scriptures. That will likely tell you most everything you need to know.

Links I like

I Love My Black Letter Bible

Matt Smethurst:

I recently heard a remark that only in Jesus do we see God “as he is.” While this statement may sound profound and even have a ring of truth—Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15; cf. Heb. 1:3) and the point of the biblical story (Luke 24:27, 44)—it is finally misleading since it does not reveal the whole picture. The Lord’s self-disclosure was not exhausted by the Son’s earthly life. Jesus’ appearing neither nullified the revelation that came before (Matt. 5:17-18) nor rendered redundant the revelation that followed after (John 16:12-15).

On the surface, “Jesus shows us what God is really like” language appears pious and even Jesus-exalting. In reality, it betrays a tragically truncated view of the Jesus of the Bible. We see God “as he is” by gazing with the eyes of faith on the pages of his Word—all of them.

When pastors fail: why full and public repentance matters

Ed Stetzer:

…while pastors have a higher scriptural standard to receive criticism– and cultural realities exist making it harder to make such accusations– pastors also have a higher standard to repentance. Yes, repentance should be evident when any believer is caught in sin, but something more is required when a pastor is involved, and this matters just as much as the cautions against accusations.

With this higher standard in mind, I want to offer three principles of repentance for pastors and Christian leaders.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In addition to yesterday’s great big list, here are a few new deals to look at:

A Subtle, but Powerful Way to Love Your Spouse

Dan Darling:

I’m amazed at how often I hear good, faithful Christian couples undermine each other in public. I hear wives degrade their husband’s character and worth, sometimes in the church parking lot. I cringe every time I hear this because in my mind I can see the strength and confidence of the husband shrink. I also hear husbands rail on their wives in a sort of “can you believe what my wife just did?” kind of manner that tells me how much they really value the wive God has given them.

New eBook: God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines

Recently a new book by Matthew Vines was released claiming to present a biblical case for supporting same-sex relationships. Albert Mohler, along with James Hamilton, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert, have produced a free eBook offering a response to the biblical, theological, historical, and pastoral issues raised by Vines’ book. To download a copy, go to sbts.me/ebook.

Links I like

It’s Back — The “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” and the State of Modern Scholarship

Albert Mohler:

The so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” is back in the news and back in public conversation. The story first broke in a flurry of sensationalism back in September of 2012 when Smithsonian magazine declared that a papyrus fragment had been found which would “send jolts through the world of biblical scholarship.” Well, it didn’t jolt much of anything.

If you did what Disney characters do, they’ve be creepy

HT: Barnabas

New Kindle deals!

There are some pretty great new Kindle deals on right now, including one of my favorite books on evangelism by Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, for 99¢. Also on sale:

An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew Davis—99¢

Atheism Remix by Al Mohler—$1.99 (seriously, just get this!)

Preaching the Cross by the Together for the Gospel speakers—$3.99

Truth Endures by John MacArthur—$3.99

And finally, Francis Chan’s books are on sale:

5 Common Small Group Myths

Steven Lee:

What you believe about your small group will dictate how you approach potential problems when they arise. If you buy a house knowing it will be a fixer-upper, then you approach that faux wood paneling in the family room as an opportunity to upgrade and improve. Whereas if you buy your dream house and find out the basement floods, you’re pretty disappointed and discouraged.

In the same way, people are often disappointed in their small group because they come to it with the wrong expectations. Here are five common myths about small groups, and the corresponding truth that corrects our wrong thinking.

A Generation of Ham’s

Mike Leake:

I am convinced that we are a generation of Ham’s and not Shem and Japheth. We glory in exposing sin and shame instead of covering it. Certainly we should “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” I think we’ve got that part down for the most part. What we lack, however, is a love which covers sin instead of exposing it.

The God of Joyful Tears and Sorrow

Trevin Wax:

The delivery room is a place of great pain, but also joy as a woman awaits the arrival of new life from her womb. The graveside harbors a family’s great grief, but also, an insuppressible hope and joy as we feel the birth pangs of a world that is passing away and look forward to the world that is to come, a world in which a little girl whose first sight was the eyes of Jesus will receive her little body back and bow before her Maker, a world in which God Himself will wipe away our tears, a new world born out of the pain and suffering of the old.

 

Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung

deyoung-taking-God-at-his-word

The Bible is the most important—and most controversial—books ever written. Its message of world destroyed by human sinfulness and redeemed only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is an affront to our modern sensibilities.

So it’s no wonder this book is constantly under attack, is it? For centuries, skeptics of all stripes have done their level best to debunk the Bible’s reliability. And Christian scholars in kind have written many wonderful treatises expressing why the Bible can be trusted.

The problem is, most of those treatises aren’t written to the people who need them: average people coming to church on Sunday morning. For the average Christian, there aren’t a lot of good, engaging books on the reliability of Scripture. So, Kevin DeYoung decided to write one.

His latest, Taking God At His Word, offers readers an easily digestible look at what the Scriptures say about themselves and why we, as Christians, can and should trust them—and more than that, why we should love the Bible.

Why do we need to love the Bible?

Taking God At His Word begins with its conclusion: God’s people are not to simply assent to God’s Word, they are to love it. Our approach to the Bible is not to be one of dreary subservience, but of delighted submission, something illustrated in Psalm 119’s exuberant language. And this is DeYoung’s entire purpose in writing the book.

I want all that is in Psalm 119 to be an expression of all that is in our heads and in our hearts.… I want to convince you (and make sure I’m convinced myself) that the Bible makes no mistakes, can be understood, cannot be overturned, and is the most important word in your life, the most relevant thing you can read each day. Only when we are convinced of all this can we give a full-throated “Yes! Yes! Yes!” every time we read the Bible’s longest chapter. (16)

Note how careful DeYoung is to ground this delight: we’re not to come to the Bible with a subjective emotionalism; our feelings don’t guide how we are to view the Bible. Instead, because the Bible is true, clear, essential and authoritative we can feel an immense amount of joy and gladness!

But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? After all, many of us don’t live there, or if we do, it’s not all the time. But getting there is possible—not easy, but possible. It means we have to understand what the Bible says about itself.

What does the Bible say about itself?

DeYoung’s knack for taking complex ideas and making them accessible is on full display as he unpacks what the Bible says about itself. In doing so, he outlines four essential truths about Scripture:

  1. God’s Word is enough. The Bible is sufficient for all our needs and to grow us into maturity as believers.
  2. God’s Word is clear. The Bible’s message can be accurately (if not completely) understood by ordinary people using ordinary means.
  3. God’s Word is final. The Bible is our ultimate authority over all matters, and we are to sit under its rule.
  4. God’s Word is necessary. We need the Bible in order to know God and to know the way of salvation.

Entire books can easily be written on each of these four subjects (and have), but DeYoung gives readers just enough to be grounded and certain in how the Scriptures speak to each of these truths. Of them all, the one we see near constant attack on is the Bible’s authority—and often this challenge is made by undermining its clarity.

Take homosexuality and same-sex marriage as an example. A number of well meaning professing believers want to believe homosexual practice is not in conflict with the Christian faith, and that this is not an issue clearly spoken of in Scripture. A few of the common arguments:

  • Maybe Paul wasn’t referring to monogamous homosexual relationships in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6; maybe he was only speaking of nonconsensual acts.
  • Jesus didn’t really speak on the issue, so how can we know what Jesus would say?
  • Perhaps there is a trajectory that is set in motion through the gospel that would mean that even though Paul said it wasn’t acceptable, it is now.

Notice the common traits: each argument attempts to obscure the clarity of Scripture, either by questioning the author’s clear intent or arguing from silence. And as soon as we lose the clarity of Scripture, we lose its authority. It’s the old serpent’s trick once again: “Did God really say…?”

God’s word is final. God’s word is understandable. God’s word is necessary. God’s word is enough. In every age, Christians will do battle wherever these attributes of Scripture are threatened and assaulted. But more importantly, on every day we will have to fight the fight of faith to really believe everything we know the Bible says about itself and, even more challenging, to live accordingly. (93)

Can we take God at His Word?

Getting to the place of delight DeYoung advocates for is hard, but it’s necessary. We will continually be challenged from without and within on whether or not this book we claim is the Word of God is what it says it is. But we have good reason for confidence—not from external evidence (although we do), but from the Bible itself. Taking God At His Word does a wonderful job of reminding readers that this book is what it says it is: the knowable, necessary, authoritative and sufficient Word of God—the only place where we may learn of the One who has come to rescue us from our sin, and of the hope He offers for tomorrow.

Friends, if this is really true, how can you not delight in it?

Taking God At His Word is one of the few books I want to hand out to everyone I know. It really is that helpful. Its punchy and powerful message is exactly what so many new and mature believers need, and I trust it will be a great benefit to all who read it.


Title: Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Publisher: Crossway (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

Links I like

Your leadership shelf life

Eric Geiger:

Leadership is always a temporary assignment—always. It is a temporary assignment because leaders do not ultimately own the teams, ministries, or organizations that they lead. They simply steward what the Lord has entrusted to their care for a season.

Wise leaders embrace the temporal reality of leading, and they prepare the ministry for the future. Because the assignment is fleeting, developing others for leadership is an essential responsibility of a leader.

The Four Questions of Christian Education

Anthony Bradley:

One of the advantages of living in a free society is that parents have multiple options for how they can educate their children, including enrolling them in religious education. Christian education is unique in that teachers can integrate faith and learning in the classroom to unlock academic disciplines from mere materialistic or rational concerns to direct interdependence and collaboration with the providential work of the Triune God in his plan to redeem the entire cosmos.

In light this fact, if any student graduates from a Christian school, at either the secondary or the university level, and cannot answer the following questions I argue that the school is failing. These four questions wed the goal of the Christian life — namely, to glorify God — with our day-to-day lives in a way that expands the scope of how we think about vocation.

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly

This is a terrific infographic.

Get Jesus the Evangelist in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the ePub edition of Jesus the Evangelist by Richard Phillips for $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Sola Scriptura by various authors (Paperback)
  • T4G 2008 conference messages (audio & video download)
  • Tearing Down Strongholds teaching series by R.C. Sproul Jr. (audio download)

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

The Joyously Annoying Memory of Children

Michael Kelley:

One of the most often repeated phrases at the Kelley house right now is, “But you said…”

You can fill in the blank afterward. For us, it usually has to do with a dessert or a “special drink” (something other than water). Kids are like elephants in that way – they seem to never forget when it’s something they want to remember. Over the course of the past 9 years, Jana and I have slowly picked up on this trait, and it’s caused us to learn to be a little gun shy when we are making promises. More than once we’ve been burned over saying the kids could have or do something, then something else comes up, and we have to make a mid-course correction.

Jimmy Fallon + Billy Joel + iPad = ?

HT Michael Kelley

If I Wrote the Bible…

Tim Challies:

Lately a lot of my tasks and projects have converged at the point of the Bible and, more precisely, the nature of God’s Word. I have been thinking about the sheer otherness of the Bible, the fact that it is so different from every other book. And I got to thinking, What if I had written my own bible? How would it be different? How would a simple, sinful person like myself approach the task of writing a standard of faith and practice that was meant to transcend all times, contexts and cultures?

If I wrote the Bible…

Links I like

How it’s all going to end

Sam Storms (it’s an oldie, but a goodie):

This work of the Spirit in restraining human sin is called “grace” because no one deserves it. That God inhibits their sin is an expression of mercy to those who deserve judgment. It is called “common” because it is universal. Both saved and unsaved, regenerate and unregenerate, are the recipients of this divine favor. It is not restricted to any one group of people and it does not necessarily lead to salvation.

When the Bible Is Hard to Understand

John Knight:

Like most of you, I’m just a guy in the pews. I have no formal theological education. I can’t read Greek or Hebrew. I have a full life with my family, my job, my church, and several other activities scattered within. But I wasn’t content to end with whatever I “thought” the passage meant. I wanted to understand what God meant by these hard texts and therefore, I pulled out study Bibles and commentaries and looked over sermons preached by my pastor and other trusted expositors.

Why you should never self-diagnose using the Internet

HT: 22 words (via Z)

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah

Greg Thornbury:

Only with the juxtaposition against radical depravity can mercy actually make sense. Failing this understanding, you cannot sustain Christian theism. Otherwise, mercy becomes weak, expected, and even demanded. Seeing Russell Crowe-as-Noah grit his teeth and war against real flesh-and-blood evil makes sin, a notion seemingly incredible to Hollywood, to be real. As a viewer, locked into the gaze of the film, you’re thinking, I’m with God, and this Noah guy. It makes the redemption and mercy theme of the film compelling, even if Aronofsky takes a slightly perverse (and admittedly extra-biblical) route to make the point. We grew up in a world that makes Noah nice. Noah is not nice.

4 Reasons I Still Prefer Books Over eBooks and A Note to Blogger Review Programs

Mike Leake:

Using my Kindle on my iPad is growing on me, I must confess. I’m reading more and more books that way. But I’m finding that these are mostly books that I read for sheer entertainment value. If I really want to chew on a book then reading it in electronic format is pretty much useless.

Today I am sharing four reasons why I still prefer actual hold-in-my-hand-and- smell-the-pages books over their computerized version. I also will add a note to publishers and blogger review programs.

Links I like

Kevin Bacon explains the ’80s to Millennials

Various Kinds of Tongues

Nathan Busenitz:

So what are we to make of the phrase “various kinds of tongues”? Is Paul differentiating between two fundamentally different categories of tongues (as Storms and other continuationists contend)? Does this verse really distinguish between earthly (human) languages on the one hand, and heavenly (non-human) languages on the other?

I certainly don’t think so.

Here are four reasons why.

If Jesus is the “Word of God” can we call the Bible the Word of God?

Derek Rishmawy:

“The Bible is not the Word of God, Jesus is. John says he is the Eternal Logos, the true Word spoken from all eternity, and to put such a focus on the Bible as the Word of God is to take it off their point: Jesus. In fact, it’s tantamount to bibliolatry–elevating the Bible to the 4th person of the Trinity.”

Ever heard something like that before? It’s become a truism among many of the Christian internet set, and something like it has been popular in theological circles for some time now.

Four books to encourage ministers

Westminster Books has a terrific deal on four books (two of which I can confirm are outstanding) intended to encourage those in ministry:

The Erosion of Religious Liberty at Bowdoin College

Owen Strachan’s written two excellent pieces on a major issue at Bowdoin College in Maine, the first for the American Spectator and a follow-up at his blog:

This shocking development stings me both ideologically and personally. I was a member of BCF for all four of my years at Bowdoin. I was a member of the Leadership Team in my upper-class years, and an emcee of our large-group meetings for two years. Led by Inter-Varsity staff worker Will Truesdell, a godly and kind man, BCF was a crucial and vital part of my Bowdoin experience.

3 Reasons Why a Christian Worldview Still Matters

Trevin Wax:

Some Christians shrug off any effort to study philosophies and “isms.” They say things like, “I don’t worry myself with what other people think about the world. I just read my Bible and try to do what it says.”

This line of thinking sounds humble and restrained, but it is far from the mentality of a missionary. If we are to be biblical Christians, we must read the Bible in order to read the culture. As a “sent” people, it’s important to evaluate the -isms of this world in light of God’s unchanging revelation. In other words, we read the Bible first so we know how to read world news second.

Why Every Politician Should Be a Calvinist

David Murray, who wins the award for “title most likely to set the Internet on fire”:

The President’s policies and legislation always assume the best in human nature (unless he’s talking about rich Republicans who are just to the right of the Antichrist), that people are always reasonable, rational, and logical.

If given a choice between working or not working, people will surely work. If given the choice of a healthy lifestyle or a self-destructive lifestyle, they will surely choose the former. If given the choice between living in helpless poverty or taking the opportunity to better themselves, well, of course they’ll roll up their sleeves. And when it comes to nations, surely they will know what’s in their best interests and always pursue that. They will like us if we like them more. They’ll prefer talking to us to bombing us.

The President could do with a good old-fashioned dose of old Calvinism to help him understand that we are so morally and spiritually depraved that we often have no idea what is in our interests, and even when we do we may still choose the wrong, the false, the destructive, and the insane.

Three assumptions of sound theology

everyone-theologian-sproul

Whether we admit it or not, all of our opinions and ideas are based on certain assumptions (or presuppositions). These are basic principles through which we view what we read, what we study, how we think, etc.

In studying the Bible, it’s no different; we all come to the study of the Bible with certain basic assumptions. In fact, the basic assumptions guiding our study drastically affect how we read it and comprehend what we find in its pages. In his new book Everyone’s a Theologian, R.C. Sproul introduces readers to three basic assumptions he finds necessary for sound theological thinking:1

1. God has revealed Himself not only in nature but also through the writings of the prophets and the Apostles.

In other words, Sproul says, “the Bible is the Word of God. It is theology par excellence. It is the full logos of the theos.”

2. When God reveals Himself, He does so according to His own character and nature. “Scripture tells us that God created an orderly cosmos. He is not the author of confusion because He is never confused. He thinks clearly and speaks in an intelligible way that is meant to be understood.”

3. God’s revelation in Scripture manifests those qualities.

There is a unity to the Word of God despite the diversity of its authors. The Word of God was written over many centuries by many authors, and it covers a variety of topics, but within that diversity is unity. All the information found in Scripture—future things, the atonement, the incarnation, the judgment of God, the mercy of God, the wrath of God—have their unity in God Himself, so that when God speaks and reveals Himself, there is a unity in that content, a coherence.

What would systematic theology look like if we did not hold to these basic assumptions? Ultimately, it would look like much of the confusion we see in the world around us, and especially in many churches. Where we lack consistency, it’s because at a foundational level, we’re not really sure of these things:

  • We question (in the negative sense) the Bible because we not certain it’s truly God’s Word, even if we would say otherwise.
  • We waffle on notions of God’s wrath because we’re not sure it fits with our notion of good (as opposed to God’s).
  • We reject particular patterns or emphases because we don’t know that God is consistent in His actions and character (which therefore means His Word would be as well).

While certainly, no theologian has ever gotten everything right, we can easily see the fruit of theology gone awry. One does not need to look hard for examples. Nevertheless, we’re all called to engage in the task of theological thinking and exposition. This is a basic part of what it means to be a Christian—to think Christianly. When our assumptions are sound, our theology will be as well. So the question we all need to ask is: what am I bringing to the table?

Being disciplined about disciplines

holding-bible-lr

At the beginning of the year, I decided to try out a couple of different ideas on how to read my Bible this year. All of these have revolved around short, attainable goals (something my friend Steve McCoy has been strongly advocating of late).

The whole purpose of this isn’t to make life easier when it comes to disciplining oneself, but to create momentum. So many of us set goals planning to read the Bible in a year and wind up throwing in the towel within three to six months for one reason: the long-term goal doesn’t create check-points along the way. So if you miss a day, it’s harder to adjust. If you miss a week, it’s a lost cause. It’s hard to keep up any sort of momentum without having somewhere to stop, catch your breath and say, “Yep, I accomplished this thing.”

This has been really helpful for me since it’s allowed me to be a little more focused and intentional with my reading of Scripture. So, I fired up Logos and started making a couple of different plans:

In January, I did an overview of the Bible’s big story, hitting key points from Genesis through Revelation. Although the plan’s choices of passages weren’t always my favorite (I think it missed a few key ones, like most of Isaiah), it was still super-helpful, not because I don’t know the big story, but because it’s so necessary to keep it fresh in my thinking. All of us can become so consumed with minutiae or on a particular cause that we forget that the Bible really is a story about God’s redemption of His people.

Take the issue of poverty, for example. When we’re focused on the cause—caring for the poor—we tend to read passages in isolation. But if we don’t read Isaiah 58 in light of Israel’s idolatry problem and the economic aspects of the Mosaic Law, or Isaiah 61 as being explicitly Messianic, or the Beatitudes without the backdrop of Genesis 3, what do we have? Moralism. We wind up putting ourselves at the center of the story, and determine that it’s our job to fix the world . In other words, we have a thoroughly gospel-less—and therefore thoroughly anti-Christian—approach to the subject.

But putting the issue of poverty into the context of the redemptive story changes how we approach it—we see ourselves as being poor, and Christ being extravagantly generous, pouring Himself out on our behalf. We begin to have less concern for trying to save the world (for the world is not ours to save), and greater concern for how caring for the poor is a matter of worship, something we do in response to how great and wonderful Christ is.

(And for more on that, I’ll direct you to this book over here.)

In February, I started a pretty aggressive reading goal: to read the entire New Testament in 31 days. (I’m a couple of days behind, but hey, 33 days is pretty darn good, I think…) This has been a really great exercise, not because I’m trying to retain anything in major—when you’re reading between up to 16 chapters in a day, you’re not really shooting for comprehension—but because it allows you to see the consistency of the New Testament.

By reading Paul’s epistles in big chunks, you get to see patterns and particular emphases you might miss when reading in isolation. You get a better sense of the challenges he faced as a minister of the gospel, and the delicate balance he strikes on so many issues that we find offensive in our day. Just as importantly, you get to see how consistent Paul is with Jesus in the gospels. If you want to put silly notions of pitting Jesus against Paul, all you have to do is read the New Testament. It’s seamless in what it presents. And this is a very good thing indeed.

I haven’t settled on what I’m going to do after I finish my read through of the New Testament (I’m guessing I’ll wrap it up by Friday)—I’m currently leaning toward reading through Isaiah or Jeremiah in four weeks. But wherever I wind up, it’s going to be fun. Setting short, attainable goals has been incredibly helpful and rewarding for me, even at this early point in the year. Being disciplined about spiritual disciplines really matters, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where things go as the year continues.

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Red Letter Nonsense

Kevin DeYoung in an excerpt from his upcoming book, Taking God at His Word:

The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this “red letter” nonsense, as if the words of Jesus are the really important verses in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. An evangelical understanding of inspiration does not allow us to prize instructions in the gospel more than instructions elsewhere in Scripture. If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts spoken by Jesus.

The road to joy

Jeremy Walker:

Your entry into and experience of joy depends, then, largely on your honesty before God and with yourself and others. That begins with honesty about our misery, our sin, our rebellion, our nature and our weakness. It is only when we face these facts that we will begin to find corresponding peace with and delight in God known in Christ Jesus. As sinners – even as saved sinners – there is nothing to be gained by denying or downgrading the depth of our past and present deeds and needs. Rather, our guilt and weakness is the very backdrop against which the grace of God shines most brightly. The bitterness of our sin and frailty makes the sweetness of divine mercy all the more distinct.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A whole bunch of new deals to start your week:

Also free from Logos this month is Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians.

How Not to Debate a Christian Apologist

Rob Bowman:

In an article on Huffington Post (naturally) entitled How to Debate a Christian Apologist, atheist Victor Stenger explains why non-Christians usually do so badly in debates with Christians and then offers a cheat sheet of brief answers to Christian apologetic arguments. The reason why the Christians do so well, according to Stenger, is that they have had years to polish their arguments in their religion classes and churches. The atheists, apparently, don’t have comparable opportunities. This will come as a surprise to Christian students throughout the Western world who have sat under atheists and other skeptical professors routinely spouting off against Christianity even if it entails ignoring the subject matter of the course.

The False Teachers: Muhammad

Tim Challies continues his new series on a few of the most famous false teachers through history:

Muhammad was born around 570 in Mecca in what is now the nation of Saudi Arabia. This was an area where there were significant populations of both Christians and Jews, so there was access to the Scriptures and the teachings of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Muslims claim that Muhammad was a direct descendent of Ishmael, and thus of Abraham, though the only evidence to support this comes through oral tradition. Muhammad’s father died before he was born and his mother sent him as an infant to live in the desert with Bedouins in order to become acquainted with Arab traditions. While in the desert he is said to have encountered two angels who opened his chest and cleansed his heart with snow, symbolic of Islam’s teaching that he was purified and protected from all sin.

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The Case for Big Change at Calvary Chapel

Timothy C. Morgan, interviewing Brian Broderson:

In the last half century, Calvary Chapel has grown from a single Bible study to a worldwide fellowship of more than 1,500 churches and ministries, yet not without its problems. In a 2007 CT interview, one pastor said of Calvary Chapel, “The Titanic has hit the iceberg. But the music is still playing.” Calvary Chapel is, however, still afloat, and has survived not just growing pains, but also allegations of pastoral misconduct, lawsuits, and scandals.

In a historic transition in 2012, Calvary Chapel officially established an association with a 21-member leadership council, which now guides the worldwide organization Chuck Smith fostered. In December, CT’s senior editor, global journalism, Timothy C. Morgan interviewed pastor Brodersen.

More Christians need to be like this kid

HT: Barnabas

Would God Ask You to Take a Mustard Bath?

Mike Leake:

The frail old man sets aside his walker and gradually places himself in the tub. But this is no ordinary bath. You see, he just returned from the store where he purchased seven gallons of yellow mustard. The old man has scooped, squirted, and squeezed this smelly condiment into his bathtub.

Why in the world has this man done such a thing?

“Is he senile?” you ask.

Nope. He’s just got arthritis and he watches Christian television.

The Bible in the Original Geek

Ted Olsen:

Stephen Smith doesn’t look like a mad scientist, because he’s not one. Not really. He’s not even a code guy by training. But he has packed the room at BibleTech, an occasional gathering of coders, hackers, publishers, scholars, and Bible technology enthusiasts. And the standing-room-only crowd is starting to turn on him. No pitchforks and torches. But for once in this collegial, tight-knit retreat, you can feel the tension growing.

My Evangelical Story Isn’t So Bad

Derek Rishmawy:

Over the last few years we’ve seen one narrative in particular rise in ascendancy, the story of broken religious faith–either to be recovered, transformed, or possibly forfeited forever. While they can be found in most traditions, given my own context, I’m thinking of the ”I had a terrible Evangelical experience” story in particular. An expanding number of blogs, long-form articles, and memoirs dedicated to telling these stories have emerged, and done quite well. Indeed, it seems to be a wave with no end currently in sight.

Of course, even those specific to Evangelicalism come in different forms. For some, there’s a story of flight from churchly abuse and control. Others share their experiences in “purity culture” with its repressive and distorted teaching on sexuality and personhood. Still others give us insight into communities of scared, intellectual obscurantists set to repress all questions and intellectual honesty. A lot of it is really sad, heartbreaking stuff, for a number of reasons.

Authority in Christianity belongs to God

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The Christian principle of biblical authority means, on the one hand, that God purposes to direct the belief and behavior of his people through the revealed truth set forth in Holy Scripture; on the other hand it means that all our ideas about God should be measured, tested, and where necessary corrected and enlarged, by reference to biblical teaching. Authority as such is the right, claim, fitness, and by extension power, to control. Authority in Christianity belongs to God the Creator, who made us to know, love, and serve him, and his way of exercising his authority over us is by means of the truth and wisdom of his written Word. As from the human standpoint each biblical book was written to induce more consistent and wholehearted service of God, so from the divine standpoint the entire Bible has this purpose. And since the Father has now given the Son executive authority to rule the cosmos on his behalf (Matt. 28:18), Scripture now functions precisely as the instrument of Christ’s lordship over his followers. All Scripture is like Christ’s letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2–3) in this regard.

J.I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs

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Faithful pastor, you’re not crazy

Ray Ortlund:

A text message came in from a pastor friend.  I’ve known him for decades.  He is the kind of man for whom the adjective “saintly” was invented.  He pastored a thriving church for many years.  Then someone on staff stabbed him in the back and rallied others to get him thrown out.  The objections to his ministry had no substance.  “The issues” were not the real issues.  As Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus, said to me once, “Some try to pull down a prominent man, not because they themselves wish to take his place, but because doing so gives them a feeling of power.”

My friend had met with someone from his former church, wishing to reconcile.  But the person blew him off.  All that the meeting accomplished was to re-open an old wound.

So here is what I want to say to my friend:

You’re not crazy.  This has been happening to God’s men since Cain and Abel.  It is one way you identify with Jesus himself.

Are Tongues Real Languages?

Nathan Busenitz begins a new series asking an important question:

Has the church, historically, been right to conclude that the gift of tongues in the New Testament consists of the supernatural ability to speak in foreign languages previously unknown to the speaker? Or is the modern charismatic movement right to conclude that the gift of tongues encompasses something other than cognitive foreign languages?

Ridiculously good deals from Westminster Books

Westminster Books has a whole bunch of great titles on sale for up to 70% off, including:

The Cold that Bothers Us

Greg Forster:

The most obvious lesson of Frozen—the one made explicit in the movie—teaches viewers that love is not about how you feel. It’s about putting other people’s needs ahead of your own. This theme by itself profoundly inverts the old Disney culture; it’s a big win for the Pixar invaders. But Frozen not only makes this point, it also traces some wide-ranging consequences. It shows us why people are investing too much importance in romantic love relative to other kinds of love, like sisterhood. The responsible grown-ups who tell you not to burn down everything else in your life for the sake of “true love” are not your enemies; they’re your friends. They’re the people who really love you.

The Danger of Forgetting How to Read the Bible

Dan Doriani:

In the past month, I learned that two more Christian leaders whom I know have either tarnished or destroyed their ministries. Neither was a friend, in the full sense, yet I’ve been friendly with both men and respected their talents and the fruit of their labors.

Once again, I wonder: How could a man who studied and knew Scripture and taught it faithfully to others, brazenly violate its most basic principle of love and self-control? Even as I ask the question, I know I’m liable to self-destructive sin too. Everyone needs Paul’s admonition: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Self-aware leaders know that we can violate principles we thought we knew.

What does the Bible say about religion?

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It’s really popular today to distinguish between religion and Jesus—as though the gospel and religion are diametrically opposed. We love Jesus, but hate religion. Religion says “do,” Jesus says, “done.” And although many of the critiques have their own strengths and weaknesses, there’s a small problem: the way we understand “religion” entirely depends on what we mean by the word. This is a subject I’ve explored in a new paper I’ve written for ExploreGod.com:

Millions of people around the globe consider the Bible an authoritative guidebook on how to live a godly, righteous life. So how does the Bible understand “religion”? What does it say?

The answer isn’t as cut-and-dried as we might like to think. The Bible itself is neither wholly positive nor entirely negative about religion. After all, at the most basic level, a religion is a set of deeply held personal or institutional beliefs or principles. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. In fact, by that definition, every human being on earth is deeply religious.

But the issue is not whether we have deeply held beliefs and practices—the issue is to whom those beliefs are devoted. To better understand this, let’s turn to the book of Romans in the Bible.

Keep reading at ExploreGod.com.

(photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc)