The kind of fundamentalist I want to be

the fundamentals

With the exception of a few “badge of honor” types, no one really likes to be called a fundamentalist these days. But that’s really just because we use it as the dirtiest Christian cuss-word we can think of—as a pejorative or conversation killer. There’s an image of the fundamentalist as a joyless, angry, fire-and-brimstone preaching, King James reading, hymns-only singing cranky pants who has his tie just a bit too tight on Sunday mornings.

And while there are some who probably fit the stereotype a bit too closely, we really only think this way because we’ve actually forgotten that being a fundamentalist is a good thing. We should absolutely be fundamentalists—at least about the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

So what are the fundamentals? What are the things that make Christians Christian?

There are a number of formulations, but I believe the best place to look is to two ancient creeds: the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creeds. These were two of the earliest formulations of Christian doctrine, and so they have much to say about any discussion of fundamentals of the faith.

The Apostles’ Creed summarizes the fundamentals this way:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.

Amen.

Here we have a few basics: we have God himself, that is his nature (the Trinity) and his character—the maker of heaven and earth and the author of salvation. We have Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin, who was crucified and rose again, and now sits at the right hand of God, from which he will return to judge the living and the dead. We have the Church, both universal and local, and the future promise of the resurrection to new life in the new creation. In other words:

  1. God as Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit
  2. The virgin birth and divine nature
  3. The atoning death, resurrection, and eternal lordship of Jesus
  4. The centrality of the Church (as what we are saved into)
  5. Christ’s future judgment (resurrection of the living and the dead, heaven and hell)

In the Nicene Creed, we have something similar:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Nicene Creed provides essentially the same formula, but makes explicit one element that is assumed in the Apostles’ Creed: the authority of the Scriptures. So from it we get:

  1. God’s nature and character
  2. Jesus’ virgin birth and divine nature
  3. The work of Christ (perfect life, atoning death, resurrection and eternal lordship)
  4. The Church
  5. Christ’s future judgment (resurrection of the living and the dead, heaven and hell)
  6. The authority of the Scriptures (for all of this was “according to the Scriptures”)

Later groups would again redefine these fundamentals, sometimes with as few as three points (as I offered in my book, Contend, which condenses a few of the essentials seen in the creeds together), or as many as 90, as in Torrey et. al’s The Fundamentals. But they all come back to what we see in the Creeds. And where we choose to narrow down, it tends to be in relation to Jesus specifically, such as highlighting the historical reality of his miracles, the miraculous nature of his birth and his bodily resurrection—all the stuff that tends to be heavily under fire in our day and in every era.

But fundamentally, everything comes back to these six points we get from these two ancient creeds.

And this is what we have to remember: without these key truths, there is no Christianity. 

We need the Trinity, as confusing as it can be. We need the true gospel message—including all the sticky bits that make us seem like weirdos (because, y’know, they’re weird). We need the Church, both the reality of the universal invisible body and the local communion of the saints. We need the promise of Christ’s future judgment and final victory over sin and death as it’s what gives us hope. And we absolutely need the Scriptures—in all their inspired, inerrant glory—because without them, we have no clue about any of this stuff at all!

These are the fundamentals of the faith. 

And if believing these things is what it means to be a fundamentalist, sign me up!

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The Thin Line Between Faith and Foolishness

Michael Kelley:

At some point, when you are in a rhythm and cycle and you’re not satisfied with the results, you have to go back and look at the way you are doing something, or the assumptions you had in doing that thing to see what needs to be corrected.

40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags

Good questions from Kevin DeYoung.

Remember The Pit

David Murray:

“Remember the hole of the pit from which you were dug” said Isaiah the prophet. It’s a spiritual exercise that the Psalmist models for us in Psalm 40:1-3. Although the exact nature of the pit is not specified – it could be the pit of affliction, of persecution, of mental distress, or of family trouble – it’s most likely it was the pit of sin and guilt.

Smoke on the Martyrs

David Parks:

We are in the midst of a global upsurge in attacks on Christians. Over the last year we’ve seen major atrocities in Kenya, Nigeria, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Ethiopia, and many other places. Make no mistake: Radical Islam is responsible for much of this. And even though the majority of Muslims are not violent, astonishingly high percentages are sympathetic to extremist violence.

In the midst of this, we see almost no concern from the leadership of the United States. While Christians are beheaded in dramatically produced videos designed to recruit more extremists and to incite fear, the White House has responded to the targeting of Christians in underwhelming fashion. Their condemnation has been disappointing.

And at a time when we need clear, consistent, and accurate voices, Christians in the West blow a cloud of smoke onto the issue by hanging their hats on a discredited and debunked statistic: There are simply not 100,000 Christian martyrs every year.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses: The Role of Tradition in Interpretation

Bill Kynes:

It’s true, human tradition can be a hindrance to divine truth. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for breaking God’s commands for the sake of their own traditions (Matt. 15:3). And the 16th-century Reformers rejected the magisterial authority of tradition espoused by the Roman Catholic Church. Shouldn’t we seek to emulate Restorationist leader Alexander Campbell, who counseled his followers to “open the New Testament as if mortal man had never seen it before,” no longer bound by the prejudices of the past? Why should tradition be important in seeking to understand the teaching of the Bible? Let me offer two lines of argument—one philosophical, the other theological.

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This month’s free book for Logos Bible Software is 40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law by Tom Schreiner. You can also get Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews by Herbert W. Bateman IV for 99¢. Christian Audio’s free book of the month is Eight Twenty Eight by Ian & Larissa Murphy. Finally, Westminster Bookstore’s got a great deal on the updated edition of Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief by John Frame.

Help My Unbelief

My friend Barnabas’ new book, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith, just released yesterday. Be sure to check it out.

You Don’t Really Know Who Your Friends Are Until…

Tim Challies:

You don’t really know who your friends are until their relationship with you becomes a liability instead of a benefit. Many celebrities, and even Christian celebrities, have learned this lesson the hard way. In the blink of an eye, or the release of a news story, they went from fêted to ignored, from celebrated to invisible. They learned quickly that many of their so-called friends had actually not been friends at all, but people thriving on a kind of symbiotic relationship where each benefited the other. When the relationship become a liability, their friends were suddenly nowhere to be found.

Our Unhealthy Preoccupation with Acceptance

Erik Raymond:

In thinking about this quite a bit over the last several months it occurs to me how gripped Americans, particularly religious Americans are by honor and acceptance. I live in Omaha, Nebraska. The slogan for the state is “Nebraska Nice”. Did you catch that? We are nice here. I grew up in Massachusetts. I am not going to say that people in New England are mean, but they are, in the words of Megamind “less nice”. We didn’t exactly take pride in our niceness. If someone complained about people being rude we would generally think you were a bit too sensitive. But here, if you say that Nebraskans are not nice it is like you said something about their mom. It is one of the worst things you can say to a native Nebraskan. It seems to me that one of the worst things you can say to American Christian, whether in academia, church leadership, the pew, or on the street, is to say that they either not relevant or not respectable. We seem to clamor for it with alarming intensity.

 

Four appeals to Christians embracing gay marriage

Gavin Ortlund:

I recognize that publicly affirming a traditional definition of marriage makes you vulnerable to stigmatization, so I’ve been a bit hesitant to write this. But I also think complete silence is a mistake. And at any rate I’ve never been able to suppress my convictions out of fear of how people will respond. It’s just not who I am. So I offer these thoughts hoping they might be helpful to some, even though they are somewhatad hoc and do not constitute a comprehensive statement on this whole issue.

How Social Networks Create The Illusion Of Popularity

One of the curious things about social networks is the way that some messages, pictures, or ideas can spread like wildfire while others that seem just as catchy or interesting barely register at all. The content itself cannot be the source of this difference. Instead, there must be some property of the network that changes to allow some ideas to spread but not others.

Real leaders say “I’m sorry”

Eric Geiger:

If you never apologize, if you never say, “I was wrong,” you show people you actually believe you are always right. You reveal your foolishness, not your wisdom, if you never admit to being wrong. People are hesitant, as they should be, to follow someone who thinks he/she is always right. There is only One who is faultless, and it is not you.

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The One Phrase That Will Help You Embrace The Cost of Relationships

Michael Kelley with one of the best things you’re going to read all day:

Every relationship you’re in is going to cost you something.

If you’re a parent, you know it’s true – your relationship with your children is going to cost you some patience, some frustration, or some preference. That’s why we eat at Taco Bell – it’s not because the fare is delectable; it’s because that’s where our kids want to eat. So we “eat” the cost and we take them.

Five Reasons To Take Strong Courage Today

Mark Altrogge:

There are times in life when we need someone to say to us, “Take Courage!” or “Take Heart!”  Like the time I was about to rappel backwards over a cliff.  I looked down and it was a long, long way and I’d never done this before.  My friend who had secured my rope to a tree assured me, “Just push off backwards.  You’ll be ok.  You’re tied to a tree.”

When we are discouraged we need to hear someone say, “Take Courage.”  Maybe you are facing an overwhelming situation.  Maybe you were recently been laid off or face an uncertain future.  Perhaps you are facing a serious health challenge.  Maybe you’re not facing a life and death situation but you’re facing several crazy kids who have the gift of frazzling. But at one time or another we all need to hear God say, “Take courage.”  Here are a few reasons we can.

Seven Warning Signs of Affairs for Pastors

Thom Rainer shares seven warning signs he’s gleaned from years of having far too many conversations with ministry leaders who’ve committed adultery.

5 Questions I Wished My Accountability Partner Would Ask Me

Brad Hambrick:

Without further ado, let’s begin to look at questions you wish your accountability partner would ask and why. These five questions are merely meant to be representative and to spark creativity (stale, repetitive questions result in withering accountability). Use them as a launching pad for the kinds of conversations you should be having as you establish lasting and enjoyable accountability in your life.

A public service announcement

HT: Mike

Don’t ask me to do you harm

heart

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been told, “You can believe whatever you want, as long as you keep it to yourself,” I’d be wealthier than a prosperity preacher after his royalty check arrives.

The notion that your beliefs should only affect you, but the rest of the world should remain unaffected is so common, and yet it’s completely illogical. It’s a contradiction, one where we see the values of one being or group infringe upon the other—all the while telling the group being infringed upon this is what we are not to do.

This is the line that is appearing in an ever increasing number of articles, particularly those dealing with the religious liberty implications of the recent ruling on same-sex marriage in America. Some bring it up as they dissect the words of the majority judiciaries, usually with some handwringing. Others affirm it openly in their commentary, often with arrogant presumption.

Yet, what I consistently fail to see is anyone—particularly from those affirming the statement—acknowledging that what they’re asking for is impossible. And not just for Christians who are commanded by God himself to share their beliefs openly and without apology.

No one can not share their beliefs. Why? Because out of the heart, the mouth speaks. What we care about, what matters most, what is at the root of our affections, is always going to come out in what we say and what we do. Even if we narrow the idea to imposing our beliefs upon another, we run into more or less the same problem. If one were to follow the logic to its conclusion, the result would be anarchy.

Consider parenting: my job as a dad is to do all I can to ensure my kids grow up to be responsible human beings, with a clear understanding of right and wrong, the ability to make decisions and solve problems, and who (Lord willing) worship Jesus as Lord and Savior. But my three year old boy doesn’t have a terribly well defined sense of right and wrong, and he’s very “in the moment”. So he’ll be playing and then decide it’s a great idea to smack one of his sisters. As a dad, my job is to impose my will in order to stop him from continuing in this pattern of behavior.

Am I wrong to do so? Most, I hope, would say no.

But what would happen if I were to say, “Sorry girls, I believe it’s wrong for the boy to smack you, but it’s really best that I keep it to myself”? Would that say that I care about my daughters?

This is the dilemma that Christians feel pretty dramatically, although to be honest, people from a number of different faith backgrounds feel it, too. The Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who show up at my door with their false gospel and deficient Jesuses. The Muslims who believe that all must submit to Allah. The Bahá’ís’ who believe that they will be the ones to bring about a perfect new world order1

And this is also what we’ve, quite honestly, been terrible at expressing in our concern over religious liberty issues. It’s not simply that American Christians want to see the First Amendment upheld and Canadian Christians want to see the first of our fundamental freedoms upheld simply for the sake of them being upheld. We want to see them upheld because we love the people around us. The consistent Christian recognizes that the logic of keeping our beliefs to ourselves is really a call to do those around us harm. For to know the truth of what awaits us all after death and to say nothing is to be a perpetrator of great evil. And that’s something we simply cannot do. So please don’t ask us to do you harm. Because we won’t do it.


Note: After writing this article, I noticed several friends sharing a terrific comic by Adam Ford, which expresses a similar sentiment, however those similarities are purely coincidental.

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Celebrating distinction

Also, be sure to check out this article by Peter Jones.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Gay Marriage

Aaron Earls:

For many of us, we dread having to talk to our kids about our values about sex and traditional marriage, much less same-sex marriage. So how can you have a different “talk” with your children?

Here are five important aspects as you think about talking with your kids about the recent Supreme Court decision and the culture they are facing.

Gay Marriage, Abortion, and the Bigger Picture

Karen Swallow Prior:

While public policy and legal experts debate the recent decision and the ramifications for people of faith, our most meaningful response as Christians will come from our daily lives. We witness through how we love: our God, our church, our spouses, and all of our neighbors.

So just as ultrasound images of the babe in the womb often serve as the best argument against abortion, the portrayal of our own robust marriages—signifying the mystical union between Christ and his church—will make the case for natural marriage. Just we have shown compassion toward those who have gone to the abortion clinic and to the divorce court, so must we do the same for those who go to the altar of gay marriage. We can stand for principle and love people, too.

On Twenty Years of Marriage

Russ Ramsey:

We are like two tectonic plates who, by God’s grace, grind away at each other’s rough edges until we fuse together into a brand new nation. My nearsightedness and pride collide with her courage and wisdom. Her woundedness and fear run aground on the shores of my boyish optimism and confidence. And these collisions shape us both.

But when we stood hand in hand at the altar, promising to stay in this covenant for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until one of us died, we knew little of each other’s worlds.

Now, twenty years in however, we know much more. With God as my witness we do.

Knowing When To Quit

Mike Leake:

There is a point in most every argument when one side or the other just gets silly. Logic and well reasoned biblical arguments no longer matter. Instead emotions and misrepresentation rule the day. The lengthy correspondence between Thomas Scott and John Newton eventually hit this point, as Scott began charging Newton with gross misrepresentation. Newton called him on it:

“It is easy to charge harsh consequences, which I neither allow, nor, indeed, do they follow from my sentiments”.

The Long-Term Consequences of Pragmatism in the Church

Jonathan Leeman:

The question I want to think about can be posed like this: is there something endemic not just to megachurches, but to post-1950s-evangelicalism as a whole that, over time, tends to undermine the very doctrinal convictions which makes us evangelicals? More specifically, does our doctrine of the church inevitably tend in a pragmatic direction, such that we will eventually leave the gospel and other core theological convictions unguarded?

 

How helpful is the Christian confessional?

christian-confessional

He walked across the stage toward the microphone, the room was more crowded than he’d expected. All eyes were fixed on him. He smiled awkwardly and wondered, can I really do this? What will people think? Heart racing and palms sweating, he gathered up his courage and began to speak softly.

“Hi, um, I’m a, uh, a Christian,” he said, “and I have a… a confession to make.”

He cleared his throat, tugged at his collar and continued.

“I want to apologize for the Crusades. And I want to apologize for politics being confused with Christian faith. I apologize for hate crimes being perpetrated in the name of Christ and for slavery. I’m sorry for everything that we’ve ever done that has made life difficult for anyone. But I want you to know something… We’re really not all that bad. I hope you’ll forgive us.”

As he exited the stage, several people came up to him, most of them from his small group, and congratulated him on his effort.

“I don’t know if I would have had the courage to say that,” they told him. “That was so humble of you.”

The young man blushed and thanked them for their kind words.

“I just want to be real, y’know? Authenticity is important to me.”

* * * * *

You’ve probably seen, heard or read something similar to this before: the Christian confessional.

This idea was popularized by Donald Miller in his too-young-to-write-a-memoir memoir, Blue Like Jazz. Miller describes setting up a confession booth on a college campus where he and others would confess the sins of Christendom and ask for forgiveness. In the years since the book’s release, many others have gone and done likewise. These days it’s usually seen in the form of videos of random dudes confessing the institutional sins of Christendom on YouTube.

Now, I’m not against publicly confessing sin, obviously. I’m not even entirely against the idea of the Christian confessional under certain circumstances. But whenever I see it, it’s typically only used to say to our post-Christian culture, “See, we’re not so bad.” And I’ve got to be honest, I wonder if it’s actually beneficial? I mean, I know it’s typically done under the guise of being authentic, and I’m sure those doing it have the best of intentions, but is it really authentic to confess sins you have not committed to people who may not have been sinned against?

Now, certainly there are some (many, even) institutional sins we should ask forgiveness for broadly. For example:

  • We should ask forgiveness for our churches or denominations using the Bible to wrongly treat other people as less than human.
  • We should ask forgiveness for failing to remember that the “but you were washed” of the gospel applies as equally to the gossip and slanderer as it does to the homosexual man or woman.
  • We should ask forgiveness for giving cover to peddlers of God’s word who seek to fleece people instead of feeding God’s sheep.

But these things should always be done from a place of genuine heartfelt repentance. We ask forgiveness because we see genuinely believe they were wrong and we are striving to reconcile with those who have been injured by those actions and beliefs.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if the Christian confessional is just another attempt to have the appearance of godliness without actually having to be godly. It’s like confessing generic issues in a small group—”Gosh, y’know, I’m just really wanting to follow God’s will for my life, but it’s a struggle. Pray for me, if you don’t mind.” Now, there are definitely times when you need to be a little more vague than even you might prefer—especially if you’re in a place where you’re not sure what’s actually wrong, but you’ve just got a sense that something’s off—but it’s easy to use this kind of thing to give you a pass from actually repenting of anything at all.

It’s like saying “mistakes were made,” or “I’m sorry you felt that way,” which is really just having the appearance of contrition without a contrite heart. And the thing that is so deadly is that most of us wouldn’t even be able to recognize that’s what’s going on. But that’s how pride deceives us, isn’t it?

In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells the following parable:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee thanks God for the righteousness that God has given him; that He has made him not like other men who are “extortioners, unjust, adulterers.” He even points directly to the tax collector and thanks God for not making him like him.

Think about that for a second. The Pharisee slams the tax collector—right to his face. All while he’s thanking God and declaring how he fasts and tithes faithfully. Imagine if the Pharisee, rather than saying, “Thank you that I’m not like this tax collector,” said, “God, thank you for not making me like the Crusaders, the slave traders, and the fundamentalists. I live in a monastic community and only buy products that reduce my carbon footprint.”

Imagine if the Christian confessional went a little more like this, “I want to apologize for every time I’ve put my own desires ahead of those of others. For using my words to cut people down instead of building them up. For using the Bible in a hamfisted manner instead of taking the time to explain what it says with patience. For constantly forgetting that grace is freely given to all who ask, and that I am in dire need of it. And I would ask anyone here who has been personally hurt or offended by me to come and speak with me, so I can ask your forgiveness directly for what I’ve done wrong.”

The Christian confessional has its place, just as asking forgiveness for institutional sins has its place. But what’s more authentic, and what’s more God-glorifying, is to put our own need for God’s mercy on display—and to rejoice in the knowledge that while we are great sinners, we have a great savior in Jesus Christ.


An earlier version of this post first appeared in 2010.

 

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Today’s deals from Crossway focus on apologetics:

Also on sale is Puritan Portraits by J.I. Packer for $3.99.

The Symbolism of the Rainbow

Nick Batzig:

Yesterday one of my sons asked me why there were so many rainbows on the television and internet. Most of us have have seen them on children’s books and clothing from our earliest days–and in recent years placarded on the television and internet–yet many have never stopped to ask the question, “What symbolism did God invest the rainbow with from the the day in which He first set it in the sky?” There is a rich biblical-theological answer to that question, and it would serve us well to consider what we are taught from the Genesis narrative–as well as from the rest of redemptive history.

In an Instant-Messaging Age, Sometimes It’s Best to Sleep on It

Nathan Bingham:

For bloggers like me, a literal seven-hour delay can be a beneficial habit. We are a unique breed with unique temptations. We might say that we write for the simple love of it. But that doesn’t mean we would love writing as much if no one were to read our posts. Pride is often crouching at the door as we hit the publish button. And it’s this desire to grow our readership that can push us to write on every scandal or trending topic, even if when we seriously consider it, we have nothing meaningful to contribute or any legitimate reason for providing our commentary. Simply sleeping on it, or sending the draft to a trusted friend for their counsel, can be enough to prevent publishing something that you will later regret. Making this your practice will provide you with the time to examine your motives, repent of any sin, and thereby grow in your walk with the Lord and ultimately the quality of your blogging. Having a social media editor isn’t a sign of weakness, but a sign of maturity.

We’re Addicted to Doubt

Barnabas Piper:

When I say “we” I mean younger people in the church. We are addicted to doubt — a reaction to a religious background that stifled it during our formative years. When we were growing up questions about God, any sign we lacked surety, was frowned upon either explicitly or tacitly by the greater church. Sometimes we were reprimanded, but more often we simply received canned answers to hard questions and were told to believe them. Our doubts were not resolved; they were suppressed. Many of us grew up in fundamentalist contexts where things were black and white, right or wrong, yes or no. There was no room for anything else. Anything else was sinful.

Computer Brains, Mind Trips, and the Ugliness of Myopia

Luke Harrington:

There’s a fascinating post up at Google UK’s research blog right now about image recognition and “neural networks.” These are networks of computers designed to mimic the human brain in the way they operate—they think, and they can learn, and yes, they’re probably plotting world domination as we speak. Here we had an act of terrorism carried out by a man who was enough of a racist cartoon to make Yosemite Sam look like Laurence Olivier doing Hamlet. . . . And yet, so many of us still wanted to make it about anything other than racism.In the meantime, though, they show a lot of promise for automatic image classification. For instance, if your phone has thousands of photos on it, and you haven’t done anything to sort them (imagine that, right?), a neural network could search through them for you. If you search for “dog,” and the network has been taught what a dog looks like, it’ll return all of your photos of dogs to you; if you search for “vastly overrated television program,” you’ll presumably get some stills from Breaking Bad.

Three Reasons White Pastors Need to Start Preaching on Race

Dan Darling:

For most white evangelical pastors, racial reconciliation hasn’t been a primary emphasis of their teaching. This may be for a variety of reasons. First, as the majority culture, white Christians don’t feel the sting of prejudice. It’s not that all white evangelicals are insensitive; it’s that many are not in proximity to racism or injustice. Because most of our friends are white, we aren’t forced to empathize with our minority brothers and sisters in Christ. Second, there is likely some fear of addressing race. Racial issues are delicate. Pastoral leadership is already a tightrope act; why stir up more trouble? Third, it could be that pastors might view racial reconciliation as a worthy goal, but not a gospel issue.

The limits of love

heart

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

It never was.

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

The intolerance of tolerance is at work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

There are a lot of articles coming out about the same-sex marriage ruling from the US Supreme Court. Here are a few reflections and items on implications worth reading:

Now for a few other links worth checking out…

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the last day to take advantage of these deals from Crossway:

Also on sale:

Guilt Is Not Just a Feeling

Sinclair Ferguson:

The stories of how individuals are converted vary enormously, but there is one strand that features constantly. They may have begun with no obvious awareness of guilt and no special sense of need for God. When probed a little, they might have been self-defensive, even self-justifying, but nevertheless they felt secure, safe.

But nobody can protect himself or herself fully and finally from God’s invasions.

A Stupid Promise To God

Brad Hambrick:

But how many of us have tried to make private deals with God where we promise, “If you just get me out of this situation, then I will [blank].” And, usually, what goes in the blank is some flavor of stupid – extreme, unsustainable, impossible, in conflict with other moral commitments, etc…

What do we do with that? And, as important, how do we prevent our response to these stupid promises from making us cavalier in our attitude towards God?

Proud of our children—or because of them?

Barnabas Piper:

Being proud because of your kids, though, is not aimed at your kids at all. It’s self-focused. It’s feeling an increased sense of self because your child had a success. Your child is the best soccer player, first chair violin, a scholarship winner, or on the A honor roll. Thus they are the best, and that means you, as the one who crafted them, are also the best! It’s a game of compare and contrast with other parents in which your child has become the basis for your success (or failure). It’s usury.

Choking ourselves to death

choking

During Jesus’ incarnation, the religious elite of His day, the scribes and Pharisees, would follow Him around and seek to trap Him, discredit Him and have Him arrested and killed.

The Pharisees honestly get a bad rap sometimes. During the 400 year silence prior to John the Baptist’s arrival on the scene, these men saw the godlessness of their countrymen and wanted to do something about it. They wanted Israel to live according to the Law. So the strove to obey the Law as closely as possible; to obey God as His people. But then they started adding laws to the Law in order to help them obey the Law. The spirit of the law became the letter of the law and man’s laws overtook God’s Law and then they were left with something opposed to the Law.

Although there were many, a common example is found in the Sabbath. God had commanded that on the seventh day, all his people should rest. No work was to be done, for just as God had rested from his work of creation on the seventh day, so too would his people from theirs. They had a lot of extra rules about what to do, where to go, what you could carry and even whether or not someone could be healed. So one day, Jesus was at Bethesda and saw a man who has been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. (John 5:6-9)

Jesus performed an amazing miracle in the life of this man. An invalid for over 30 years, yet now he could walk. People should have been celebrating! Except, there was one small problem: “Now that day was the Sabbath” (v. 9b). The Sabbath—the same day on which the Pharisees had determined that people could not carry a mat because they considered that work.

So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:10-17)

The Pharisees sought to persecute Jesus because “he was doing these things on the Sabbath” (v. 16). They persecuted Jesus because he broke their rules. Rules they had equated with God’s. And they became so blind with pride that they could not see who Jesus was or what he was doing.

This is something we all need to be careful of. There’s a tendency among Christians to be afraid of grace—if we talk about it too much, or if we really believe in it, people might start thinking we don’t care about obedience, or we think you can live however you want because “once saved always saved.” Even when we don’t do this, we add rules about what to wear, what to drink, what to say, what to think, how to pray, how to sing, whether to put our hands up (and how high)…

We love our rules, don’t we?

And yet, they’re the very things that might be choking the life out of us. When we substitute human effort for genuine affection for God, terrible things follow. I can’t help but think of the seven churches of Revelation to whom Jesus sent warnings and encouragement. The Ephesians, for example, he commended for their uncompromising doctrine, and their unwillingness to bear with false teachers. Yet he warned that they had abandoned “the love [they] had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4).

Jesus warned these Christians that he would put an end to their church not because they were following false teachers, but because their hearts were far off from him. Their right concern over protecting their doctrine was choking the life out of them because they’d forgotten the spirit in which it was to be pursued. Right doctrine was to lead to greater delight and devotion, not to a cold, “dead” orthodoxy (which is completely unorthodox).

One of the things I always want to be careful of in my own life—and I’ll be honest, I chafe at it whenever certain things are imposed from the outside—is whether or not the rules and structures I’ve implemented in my own life and in my family are life-giving or if they are ultimately pushing me and others away from Jesus. If a “read the Bible in a year” plan is about little more than checking a box, it ought not be done. Bible reading should happen, but the form that takes needs to change. If prayer is rigidly structured and my words are rehearsed, there’s a problem. Prayer should still happen, but the form is (generally) open by necessity. If “worship” only happens when hands are raised higher and voices are louder, well… you get the idea right?

Seeking to obey God in all of our lives is right of course. It is good and necessary and life-giving. However, we need to be careful of not adding rules that go beyond those found in Scripture lest we become proud, devoted and dead.


This post is based off a much earlier one from 2010.

 

 

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

10 Reasons Racism is Offensive to God

Kevin DeYoung:

I’ve grown up my whole life hearing that racism was wrong, that “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior” (to use one of the first definitions that popped up on my phone) is sinful. I’ve heard it from my parents, from my public school, from my church, from my college, and from my seminary. The vast majority of Americans know that racism is wrong. It’s one of the few things almost everyone agrees on. And yet, I wonder if we (I?) have spent much time considering why it’s wrong. We can easily make our “I hate racism” opinions known (and loudly), but perhaps we are just looking for moral high ground, or for pats on the back, or to win friends and influence people, or to prove we’re not like thosepeople, or maybe we are just saying what we’ve always heard everyone say. As Christians we must think and feel deeply not just the what of the Bible but the why. If racism is so bad, why is it so bad?

What I Learned from Elisabeth Elliot in Her Last Years

Jennifer Lyell:

There is much I could share about those days I spent with Elisabeth, but one experience is particularly on my mind as I write while flying home from her funeral service. The moment came in a simple circumstance with Elisabeth, arguably the most influential Christian woman of the 20th century. We were far off the beaten path in a place where there was no fanfare for this spiritual giant who had given so much to Christ and his kingdom. I sat holding her hand, but the microphone was gone. The lines waiting for an autograph were gone. The pen would be pointless. She sat struggling to stay awake even as we journeyed on. And I was full of a righteous anger I’d not previously experienced.

Bros before Marios

This is a bit older, but it’s pretty funny nonetheless:

God Will Use Even You

Steven Lee:

I have not written a New York Times Bestseller, and no one has publicly endorsed, recommended, or vouched for me. I don’t have any letters after my name. I can’t charge an exorbitant hourly fee for my time. I don’t speak on any circuits, have given no TED talks, and have been the keynote speaker less than once. No buildings, streets, or hospitals have been named in honor of me. I have an unimpressive family background and do not come from a long line of important people.

And that is okay. Really, it’s just fine.

The danger of being theoretical Christians

heart

Buzzwords make me want to die inside. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about in the business world or ministry world, they are just painful. I cringe every time I hear “strategy” or “strategic” (or worse, “strategic strategies”). I squirm when I hear the term “missional.”

It’s not that these words are bad. But what gets me is how easily they can be bent toward passivity or, worse, theoretical living. I know of lots of folks who talk about the importance of strategy all day long, but it doesn’t go beyond talking about why it matters. We believe it in theory, but actually building one and then following it, that’s something else. I’ve heard dozens of sermons about being missional or reaching the community around us, but it doesn’t really seem to go beyond the hypothetical. We believe in the idea in theory, but when it comes to actually doing something like getting to know our neighbors, oh my goodness.

Now, here’s the thing: For me, I don’t have an “everyone else should do better at this” attitude, because I’m just as bad as everyone else. I live in my head. It’s easy for me to live theoretically, but not move beyond theory. And this won’t do, because, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it well in Seeking the Face of God, “People are not interested in something theoretical.”

The thing that always convinces people is reality. If they see there is something about our lives, a certain quality, a certain calmness and equanimity, the ability to be more than conquerors in every kind of circumstance, if they see that when everything is against us, we still triumphantly prevail whereas they do not, they will become interested in what we have. They will want to know more about it. I am convinced, therefore, that the greatest need today is Christian people who know and manifest the fact that they know the living God, to whom His “loving-kindness is better than life.” In other words, nothing is more important than an assurance of salvation. (122)

This is what we’re to be about, isn’t it? We’re to be people whose knowledge and love for the Lord are clearly visible. Who recognize that salvation is truly of grace and live like it’s true. So what does that look like?

It means we quit running around as though we’ve got to do “enough” in order to earn God’s continued love. It means we speak up about our faith with confidence, at the right times and the right ways, not to beat people over the head with the gospel, but because we speak about what we care about. We don’t pretend we’ve got all the answers to every question, because we don’t. And we do our best to be honest about the fact that we’re totally going to blow it on nearly everything I’ve just said. And we can do that because we know that we are secure in the loving-kindness of our Savior.

That’s a little bit of what it looks like to live as something more than a theoretical Christian. And a theoretical Christian is exactly what we must not be. The world doesn’t have time for it, and neither do we.

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

The Easiest Way To Self-Publish

David Murray shares about a new tool he’s using for self-publishing called PressBooks. It looks pretty neat.

Why donations of free media are almost always a bad deal

This was interesting:

When someone gives away free media, it’s possible they’re being truly philanthropic and donating something of value. More likely, though, they’re unloading “garbage” on you — media they haven’t been able to sell because it has little or no value in the marketplace. They’re just going for the tax deduction.

How to Prevent a Gospel-Centered Fizzle Out

Erik Raymond:

We are well into this new and widespread recovery of the centrality of the old gospel. I continue to see and hear of lights being turned on for people. Those precious, robust theological truths of yesterday are gripping hearts today. While I rejoice in this there is also something of a rock in my throwback theological shoes: these truths are being recovered because they were once under-emphasized.

What Are Some Concerns You Have With the Homeschooling Movement?

R.C. Sproul Jr shares five things he believes are a current danger for homeschoolers in America. It’s good stuff.

Four Tips for Dealing with Church Antagonists

Rob Hurtgen:

For some reason it seems every ministry will have antagonists. Those who—for a variety of motivations—set themselves against you as the leader, the ministry strategy, and, in extreme instances the church, itself. Most often—at least it has been my experience—antagonists are not evil people. They are men and women who say they love Jesus and are concerned about the church. However, they become antagonistic when the pastor and other ministry staff do not conduct ministry they way they think it should be done. When decisions that are made that are not decisions they would make. Often their preferences and their issues–theological persuasion, political temperament, worship style, etc.–become elevated as dogma and those who are not full agreement with them are quickly dismissed as spiritually immature and intellectually faulty.