Why is it so tempting to toss the Bible?

large_3935059442

For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out where to start with a review of God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. Like I seriously don’t even know where to start. It’s the same problem I have with trying to read and thoughtfully critique anything by Rachel Held Evans or the folks involved with Christianity21… all of whom claim to take the Bible seriously, yet routinely reimagine what it says.

(This is not the beginning of a book review, by the way.)

Believe it or not, I actually get where they’re coming from. I remember some early conversations I had as a new believer where I would say some pretty stupid and arrogant things—more than once the phrase, “Well, that was just Paul’s opinion” came out of my mouth. This wasn’t because I didn’t believe the Bible, I just didn’t understand it.

Over time, I got a better sense of what was going on in the Bible, but challenging passages still present themselves. How do we deal with the Bible’s contention that Christians should not intentionally become romantically involved with non-believers? Or that marriage is strictly to be kept between one man and one woman? Or that we’re to forsake all—even our families—in order to follow Jesus?

Honestly, there are times when I can see why it’s tempting to adopt a more novel reading of some of these passages (or abandon them altogether). I mean, who really wants to tell the Christian woman with a non-believing boyfriend that they shouldn’t be dating? Who really enjoys the scorn that comes from being against every “reasonable” person in the West (in the eyes of the media, at least) on the issue of same-sex marriage? Who looks forward to the awkward moments at get-togethers when family members’ eyes glaze over when you talk about what’s going on in your life?

And so the temptation comes to light. And far too many of us—whether willingly or out of sheer exhaustion—give in. We reinvent ourselves as “doubt-filled believers,” which too often seems like choosing to be blown about aimlessly by the wind. We try to maintain our identity as evangelicals, even as we saw off the branch upon which we sit. We try to do what we can to get along with everyone, but in the end please no one.

We’re too Christian for some, but not enough for others. You can’t win playing that game.

Which takes us back to the question: why is it so tempting to toss the Bible? Because it’s easier. The Bible is dangerous and obeying is it costly.

When “fighting the good fight,” it’s often us who take a beating. When running to “finish the race,” we hit a wall that’s almost impossible to push through as every muscle in our bodies screams for us to stop.

But even then, we don’t give up. Tossing the Bible might seems like the easy solution in our moments of weakness, but it’s a losing proposition. We may not want to be on the wrong side of anything, but if I had to choose, I’d rather not be on the wrong side of Jesus. I’d rather, in as much as the Lord strengthens me, to say with Paul:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

What about you?

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Why I’m thankful for Christian music

Dan Darling offers a thoughtful corrective to those of us who tend to look at Christian music as junk.

What We Won’t Regret

Kevin DeYoung shares a whole lot of things we won’t regret doing when we get to the end of our days.

Jennifer Lawrence and the Uniformity of Nudity

Chris Martin handles this subject very well: “The guy ogling Jennifer Lawrence in Vanity Fair isn’t ogling her because she chose to reveal herself, saying, ‘I love how tastefully and beautifully she expresses herself here.'”

Christians can be terrible

Derek Rishmawy:

…every time some news report comes out about a pastoral failure, or a fiasco in Evangelical culture, or abuse in the Church, it’s common to see Christians of various stripes updating and bewailing said fiasco. While that’s fine, and probably necessary to some degree, the one attitude I find myself chafing at rather regularly is the “I don’t know if I can call myself a Christian” anymore impulse.

It’s as if this person were introduced to Christianity by having them read bits of Acts, without reading Paul, the Gospels, or heck, even the rest of Acts. As if they were promised a Christianity with nice, cleaned up people, with perfectly cleaned up story arcs where all the sin is “back there” in the past, never to rear its ugly head, so that you don’t have the bear the ignominy of being associated with such foul stupidity and wickedness. Then when they meet real Christians–you know, the sinning kind–they suffer a sort of whiplash on contact.

The Fatal Tensions of the Fight Churches

Matthew Lee Anderson:

I’m an MMA skeptic, then, and this film doesn’t help persuade me not to be from a theological standpoint.  But then, I came into it having written a book on a closely related subject, and so am in danger of confirmation bias.  Take that as you will.  But the kinds of justifications offered by pastors were most frequently just the sort of pragmatic, anti-theological ‘reasons’ that come up in related discussions like tattoos, which leave no room for any kind of limits on our “Christian witness” besides those which are unquestionably explicit in Scripture itself.  Yes, tough guys need Jesus: but surely starting a fight club in the church basement is not the only way (or even the best) to reach them, is it?  Perhaps we should think about that for a while sometime.  After all, in my experience the pragmatic justification for these kinds of programs is always the least creative and least innovative. Such justifications somehow manage to presuppose the worst of the very people they’re trying to reach—namely, that they are interested in and would only be fully satisfied by a church which can slake their thirst for just this kind of practice. And they infantilize the churches that undertake them, for they cheapen the very mysteries and sanctity of holiness which they have been entrusted to bear witness to.

Links I like

Gay marriage and racial segregation

Adam Ford hits the nail on the head.

A Christian Film that Looks Inward

Wade Bearden:

As a whole, Believe Me is a combination of both satire and drama with a hint of Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like thrown in for good measure. To strip it down, the story is less a strict documentary of the Church than a satirical caricature of individuals you’ve probably met in Sunday school or at youth camp. If you’ve ever questioned the forces behind the machine of Christian culture, you’ll likely find Believe Me deftly funny. I caught a screening with a group of pastors and had trouble counting how many times I heard “That’s so true” coming from the seats.

Tear away the mask

Jen Thorn:

There is a lot of talk about transparency these days. The need to “be real” and “do life together.” So we sit around and share about how we don’t clean our house the way we should, and are always behind on the laundry. We get coffee and chat about how we have been unkind with our kids and impatient with our spouse, or dissatisfied with our jobs. Maybe we share that we spend too much money or fail at reading our Bibles on a regular basis. We laugh and hug and say it’s ok. We may share a few Bible verses and some helpful practical tips, but this is not real transparency. It’s a spiritual opaqueness that lets only a little light through. This is superficial at best and deceptive at worst. It can be deceptive because we are pretending to be open and honest when really we are sharing what is easy while leaving out the very things we are suppose to lay before each other.

Sharing the Gospel is Inconvenient

Leon Brown:

As I was walking from the restaurant to my car, I had one gospel tract in my pocket. I had purposed to give it to someone in route to my vehicle. Literally, that was my plan. I wanted to place the tract in someone’s hand, continue walking, get in my truck, and leave. That did not happen. When I gave the tract to a man standing in my path, he asked, “What’s this?”

The Importance of Being a Pastor/Theologian

Nick Batzig:

I have a theory about why God seems to use pastor/theologians in the ways in which He does in the world. I have come to believe that God blesses the labors of pastor/theologians who give themselves to him and the work of the church in a way that He often does not do so with other believers actively engaged in helpful para-church ministries.

The Gospel Isn’t Meant To Be Strawberry Pie

Mike Leake:

Strawberry pie is the perfect cap to an awesome meal. It’s sugary sweet goodness on top of graham cracker crust never fails to make me smile. I’m always hungry for strawberry pie.

Gospel hunger isn’t strawberry pie hunger, though.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Also on sale:

The First Court of Controversy

Joey Cochran:

You never win in court unless you’re really not-guilty. And who in court is? Really, we’re all guilty of something. It just may not be what we’re actually on trial for. You’ll get what I’m getting at soon enough.

Mansfield’s a lot like Eden; it has all the makings of controversy: disagreement, differing perspectives, and someone wins. The black gown always wins. Though this was my first ticket, it wasn’t my first trial. Despite what you might think.

Cut

Lore Ferguson:

It has been a strange dichotomy for me. Before 2010 I lived most of my life perpetually mistrustful of God, with a brooding anger at him. Since 2010, though, his goodness and prevailing trustworthiness has been steadfast and immovable. I have never known anything like it and still am in awe of what a constant God he is when not encumbered by the caricatures and Sunday School stories we make him out to be like. 2014, though, has been a year where I have seen my glaring disappointments and failures front and center. If there were places of pride in my life and heart, places I thought on the brink of full sanctification, this year has wrecked every one of them.

 

Saeed Abedini’s Letter to His Daughter on Her 8th Birthday

Trevin Wax shares a very moving letter.

Be Yourself in Prayer

Stephen Miller:

Sometimes it seems as if many believers feel the need to alter who they are when they come to God in prayer, particularly when others are around. As if God will not hear them if they are themselves, they play characters, hoping to be more acceptable to God and others.

I have personally struggled over the years with what to say and how to say it when I pray. I’m in good company. Even the apostles asked Jesus to teach them to pray. And with kind, compassionate patience in his voice, he taught them to pray simply, humbly, confidently, according to God’s word, and for God’s glory.

You could sum up Jesus’s teaching into a few guiding principles.

How To Listen To Sermons

Jeff Medders:

Many Christians on Sunday mornings are hearing sermons, but they aren’t listening to them.

Hearing and listening aren’t the same thing.

I can hear music playing in the background and not be listening to its message.

I learned the difference working at Starbucks while going to Bible college. I could hear blenders, customers, music, cars, and coffee being ground—but it was vital that I listened to the orders coming through my headset. I could hear all kinds of things, but I was listening for one thing.

Listen to sermons. Do more than hear them.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

There are a whole bunch of new 99¢ deals from Crossway:

I Turned My Phone Off, and No One Died

Craig Thompson:

While on vacation, she suggested (strongly suggested perhaps) that I take a vacation from my phone. She even circulated rumors among leadership in the church that the best way to reach me while on vacation would be to contact her and she would relay the message. She felt that this plan would at least cause people to think twice before they texted, called, or emailed me. She was right.

An interesting thing happened when I turned my phone off; no one died and the world did not stop turning.

When Sinners Preach to Sinners

Jeff Robinson:

How are God’s undershepherds to come to grips with this daunting reality? How do we reconcile the all-too obvious truth that we are sinners preaching to sinners? How do we get our congregations over the notion that we are not popes, we are not monastics who descend from the cloister each week where we’ve been holed up, busy dodging the world, the flesh, and the Devil? Sin even dwells in monasteries, because sinners live there. But many of the people to whom we are called to minister don’t really believe this about us, and when we sin, and we will, some of them write us off as phonies or Pharisees. In the early months of pastoral ministry, a man told me I wasn’t qualified to be a pastor because I sinned. He seemed a bit stunned when I admitted that, though I believed his case for ministerial perfectionism unbiblical, I acutely felt the tension of a my standing as a saved-by-grace-sinner calling other sinners to walk God’s inspired line.

Twenty-Two Problems with Multi-site Churches

Jonathan Leeman:

I love my gospel-loving friends in multi-site churches—both leaders and members! But as Christians we work continually to reform our churches in light of Scripture. So I trust a little push back on the multi-site structure serves everyone, assuming my concerns turn out to be valid. Below are 22 misgivings I have about the multi-site model. All of these apply to churches that use a video preacher. Over half apply to churches who employ a preacher on every campus. Some of these are grounded in biblical or theological principles; some are matters of prudence.

The Cross & the Sword: A Christian Response to Fictional Violence

Aaron Earls:

Why do American evangelicals embrace fictional of violence in our entertainment, while shunning depictions of other sins?

I believe there are some legitimate reasons, but we would do well to think through the issues and remember our own tendency to approve what we enjoy.

Two Searching Questions About Happiness

David Murray:

“Worldly people pretend to the joy they have not; but godly people conceal the joy they have.” Matthew Henry

Why do some unbelievers seem to be incredibly happy, while some believers seem to be incredibly sad? Matthew Henry’s explanation is that the unbelievers publicize pretend joy, whereas believers privatize real joy.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few new deals for you:

What not to get your pastor for pastor’s appreciation month

Eric Geiger:

…I am grateful for the few folks in every church who remember Pastor Appreciation Month, likely because the Christian radio station they listen to reminds them. Because I am no longer a “pastor” as my full-time job, I feel some freedom to speak a bit bluntly about some of the gifts our pastors, your pastors, may be in jeopardy of receiving this year. If you have given your pastor some of these gifts before, don’t feel bad. There is no condemnation here. Only grace. And your pastor really did know you cared, was honored you remembered him, and likely thought, “It is the thought that counts.” But I want to be helpful and encourage you NOT to get your pastor the following this year.

The Hound of Heaven (trailer)

This short film written and directed by N.D. Wilson looks fantastic:

How the News Makes Us Dumb

Kevin DeYoung:

Of course, not all news is pointless. There are long form essays, insightful commentaries, skilled journalistic exposes, striking documentaries–all of these can come under the category of “news” and all of them, when done excellently, can point people to the true, the good, and the beautiful. Sommerville’s not even against the here-today-gone-tomorrow bits of news. Neither am I. The Lord knows–and so does the internet–that I’ve written blog posts on current events before, and every Monday I post two or three minutes of silliness, for no reason except to laugh a little. The news doesn’t have to make us dumb, but if we don’t take the necessary mental and habitual precautions it almost certainly will.

Repenting of Our Lack of Sleep

Scott Slayton:

We often fail to think about what our daily habits say about our view of ourselves and our view of God. When we push ourselves morning to night seven days a week for days on end we demonstrate that we have a Messiah complex. We think the world will fall apart if we are not constantly doing something. We face a major dilemma though. We cannot keep going day in and day out without feeling terrible and lashing out at the people around us. We were not made to function on a lack of sleep. The Psalmist says in 121:4, “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Only God does not need sleep. He is the one who made the world and who sustains the world. The world would fall apart if he took only a moment off, but we are not him.  Much to our chagrin, we find that the world continues to function quite well while we sleep. Sleep reminds us that God is God and we are not. John Piper said this as only he can, “Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God. Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness. The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day.”

Does Apologetics Convert People?

Clint Roberts:

If we ask the question, “How many people became Christians because they heard a good defense of something like the existence of God, the historicity of the Gospels, or the archeological verifications of biblical narratives?” the answer is probably “very few”.

But the question, “Does apologetics convert anyone?” is a poor question to begin with.

Social Media and the Sensation of Missing Out

Joey Cochran:

Social media is both a blessing and curse as we all know and have experienced. One curse is that it facilitates the sensation of missing out.

For example, have you ever gotten onto Instagram to see pictures from all your friends who are at the same event together? But you didn’t go. Your immediate response of dismay, envy, and justification for why you didn’t go or why you weren’t invited is how you manage that sensation of missing out. Or have you ever gotten on Twitter and discovered an unreal conversation that went on for swipe after swipe of your forefinger? Did you not feel those twinges of dismay and envy again? Did you feel a tractor-force beam pull to exhaust fifteen to thirty catching up on the conversation and then add a triumphal tweet of your own? This sensation of missing out is a beast to tame. It will own you until you own it. Here’s two things to remember about your sensation of missing out.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A couple of deals to start your day:

Look for this week’s eBook deals from Crossway shortly.

Three Things to Remember When You Read the Bible

Jonathan Parnell:

You can never just read the Bible.

There is something deep happening. It’s something more glorious than the universe. Whether you open these pages before dawn, over midmorning coffee, or at the dinner table with family, whenever you read the Biblesomething miraculous is happening. After all, you are not just any ordinary person, and the Bible isn’t just any old book.

How Captain America should have ended

Ten characteristics of an aspiring pastor

Brian Croft:

Scripture must first be our guide when evaluating a young man’s desire for pastoral ministry (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).  This blueprint needs to then be evaluated by the young man’s desire for the work (internal calling), and then by the pastors and congregation of his local church (external calling). Although those Scripture qualities are helpful, they are not exhaustive.

So, here are 10 other characteristics I look for that I feel are not necessarily deal breakers, but nonetheless very important for pastoral ministry and fall within the frame work of the fruit of the spirit in a Christian’s life.

The 6 Ingredients of Jesus’ Bitter Cup

Nick Batzig:

When we think of the cup that was placed before Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, we tend to think of it merely in terms of the wrath of God–since that is what the cup most clearly symbolizes in the writings of the OT prophets. While we would never dare reduce it to something less than this, there is certainly more intended by the sight of the cross. When Jesus looked into the cup He saw–from every dimension of His sufferings–all that He would suffer, both at the hands of men, Satan and God Himself. Isaac Ambrose captured so well the meaning of the cup when he set out what he believed to be the 6 ingredients that made it so burdensome a sight to the soul of the sinless Son of God.

A Coming Familypocalypse

Joey Cochran:

My family is important to me; I love my wife and three children dearly. I believe we are better together than apart. This should be the attitude of every father, right? Absolutely! Dads should cherish and enjoy their families. They should long to be with them and feel pain when apart. They also should fight to keep families together through thick and thin.

This conviction should be a shared conviction with all humanity. As humans, we should cherish the idea of family. Otherwise, how would we perpetuate and propagate our race?

Yet, occasionally, I get this unsettled feeling in my soul, as I observe the culture around me, that these are not shared feelings.

Links I like

eBook deals for Christian readers

Here are a couple of freebies for you today:

  • CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet by Michael R. Emlet (Amazon | iTunes)
  • Losers Like Us: Redefining Discipleship after Epic Failure by Daniel Hochhalter (Amazon | iTunes)

Get Knowing Christ in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get Knowing Christ: The I AM Sayings of Jesus teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD) for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Spirit of Revival by R.C. Sproul and Archie Parrish (ePub)
  • The Christian Lover by Michael Haykin (hardcover)
  • In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson (ePub)

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

Wearing Christianity on Your Sleeve

Leon Brown:

I wear Christianity on my sleeve. That is what helps me evangelize. Whether it is with my neighbors or those whom I newly meet in the marketplace, I look for ways to insert my religion and declare the gospel (Col. 4:4-5). Depending on the circumstances, the way I approach the conversation may look different. Regardless of my approach, however, I do not want to seem forceful. In other words, I do not desire to fit an unbeliever’s image of what it looks like to “force my religion down his throat.” That is a difficult balance, and in some cases it is unavoidable, as the mere mention of Jesus may seem like you are being forceful. In those instances, there is really nothing you can do.

I walked out of Guardians of the Galaxy

Samuel Jones:

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of frustration that came over me. Walking out of a movie is not a rewarding experience. As someone who loves the cinema (even when it is totally empty and in a decrepit remodeling state, as was the case last night), I enjoy the mere experience of entering a narrative, regardless of how poorly executed a narrative it might be. Leaving Guardians of the Galaxy was an admission of defeat on my end, not the movie’s. I left because of me. I just didn’t have whatever it took to enjoy the film.

Only Two Religions: A Google Hangout with Peter Jones

Be sure to attend this Google Hangout with Peter Jones on September 30th at 4 pm (EDT), where he will be discussing his new teaching series, Only Two Religions.

Domestic Violence and a Pastor’s Response

Donna Gibbs:

I am presently working a case in which the church is providing firm intervention, loving support, godly instruction, as well as a way out if necessary. I have great confidence in the outcome of this situation. I have another unfortunate case in which the pastor and leadership are abandoning a wife whose life will clearly be jeopardized if she doesn’t leave. They are abandoning her based on their belief that the husband is to have all authority and that she is not fulfilling the role of a scriptural, submissive wife in her efforts to take a stand against the abuse. These cases represent the wide dilemma of the church at large, and the dilemma of you in particular, as a pastor.

With that said, what should your role as a pastor be regarding cases of domestic violence in your church?

Called to Speak ‘Freakish’ Truth

Ben Stevens:

What do you do when your beliefs start sounding “freakish” to people around you? That’s the dilemma of 21st-century Christian rhetoric. Like Russell Moore, I don’t think the situation is going to get easier anytime soon, so we should be thinking hard about the fundamental posture we take when presenting our convictions to the outside world.

As far as I can see, those speaking up for Christianity in the public square today usually rely on one of three approaches. The three differ from each other dramatically, and everything we say is colored by the approach we choose. Let me introduce them briefly and tell you which one seems most appropriate given the nature of the moment and our message.

Can I Really Trust the Bible?

can-i-really-trust-bible-cooper

There are a lot of really great books out there on the trustworthiness of the Bible. Some of these tend to be on the academic side, demonstrating the historical reliability of the Scriptures, the formation of the canon and so on. Others are more devotional in nature, designed to edify and encourage believers as they seek to have confidence in this book which is so important.

These approaches are good and helpful, but many readers want something that’s a bit more direct and to the point. This is what Barry Cooper offers in Can I Really Trust the Bible?, the latest in The Good Book Company’s Questions Christians Ask series. Over the book’s five chapters, Cooper offers compelling answers to three key questions:

  1. Does the Bible claim to be God’s word?
  2. Does the Bible seem to be God’s word?
  3. Does the Bible prove to be God’s word?

The inescapable force of circular logic

These three questions absolutely essential to any serious study of the nature of the Bible. If the Bible does not claim to be, seem to be, or prove to be God’s word—if it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny—then we must reject the notion of the Bible being God’s word. If it’s a duck, we cannot call it a swan. And so we are wise to consider what the Bible says about itself in order to verify its nature.

Which, of course, leads to that common critique many Christians face—the charge of circular reasoning. But, Cooper notes, “When you think about it, it’s impossible for any of us to avoid this kind of circularity in our arguments: we all appeal to authority of one kind or another, even when we don’t realise it.” He continues:

…if I say: “The Bible is my highest authority because it can be proved rationally”, the argument would be self-defeating. I’d be appealing to an authority other than the Bible (rationalism), implying that it (and not God’s word) was the real measure of trustworthiness.”

This level of candor is refreshing to read in any book on this subject, and very much needed. We don’t need to deny that, yes, we’re use circular logic—why? Because (as Cooper notes above) appealing to anything other than the Bible implicitly places authority over the Bible in something other than the Bible.

Authority and evidence

 

This doesn’t mean, though, that appeals to outside evidence are invalid. For example, one of the most common challenges to the Bible today is whether or not we can know for certain what it said in its original manuscripts. If we can’t have any certainty on this, we can’t have any real confidence that what is found in the Bible as we know it today is what was intended by its original authors. But the embarrassment of riches we have in the form of ancient manuscripts—some dating back to within just a few decades of the events described—are a wonderful example of how God’s people have faithfully maintained the message.

…although we no longer have access to the original biblical documents, all is not lost. The truly enormous number of surviving copies enables experts to reconstruct the original with great accuracy. This process of comparing copies is called textual criticism, and as a result, scholars are able to say: “For over 99% of the words of the Bible, we know what the original manuscript said.”

 

It’s appropriate to mention evidence like this, not as a gotcha, but to help illustrate the point: if early Christians didn’t believe the Bible was God’s word, why would they have been so meticulous in making copies, so much so that the variations that exist affect no major doctrine of the faith (and most are limited to things like typos)? Evidence of this sort doesn’t prove the point, but it does lend additional credibility to the point the Bible itself makes.

Breaks no new ground, but refreshing nonetheless

Having said all that, readers should be aware that they’re unlikely to find anything they’ve not already read in any number of other books on this subject. The arguments are as solid as what you’ll find in Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word, R.C. Sproul’s Can I Trust the Bible? or Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited. And while Cooper may not break new ground, Can I Really Trust the Bible? is a refreshing and encouraging read that would be excellent to share with those looking to study this important topic.


Title: Can I Really Trust the Bible?
Author: Barry Cooper
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Only a couple of new ones that I’m aware of today, both by Mark Sayers: Facing Leviathan and The Road Trip that Changed the World ($4.99 each).

Blogs Gone Cold

Hannah Anderson, Courtney Reissig, and Megan Hill speak on the tendency for Christian blogs written by women to go cold.

Is Divorce Equivalent to Homosexuality?

Russell Moore:

This week my denomination, through its executive committee, voted to “disfellowship” a congregation in California that has acted to affirm same-sex sexual relationships. This sad but necessary move is hardly surprising, since this network of churches shares a Christian sexual ethic with all orthodox Christians of every denomination for 2,000 years. One of the arguments made by some, though, is that this is hypocritical since so many ministers in our tradition marry people who have been previously divorced.

A novel Jared Wilson thinks every Christian should read

The final part of Justin Taylor’s excellent series. And speaking of Justin…

Justin Taylor (sorta) interviews Dane Ortlund

If I ever get to write a book for Crossway, I’m going to insist an interview like this is part of the deal:

A Long Line of Leaving Our Comfort Zone

Ben Connelly:

My three-year-old Charlotte woke up at 4am last night. When the babysitters had put her to bed, they hadn’t flipped on her “night-night light.” A train horn in the blackness startled her to tears. When I plugged in the tiny bulb, soft yellow light engulfed the room. The darkness was gone and she cuddled back to sleep. One of the most impacting facts I’ve ever learned is that physical light always goes into darkness; scientifically, darkness never comes to light. Darkness cannot overcome a candle; it must wait for the flame to flicker out. But when you flip a light switch, beams instantly fill the blackness. If we may spiritualize the image a bit, light goes into—and pushes back—darkness.

The spin of Patriarchy

This week’s episode of the Mortification of Spin is well worth listening to.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Bryan Liftin’s trilogy is on sale for $1.99 each:

Also on sale:

“Any actor who says he wasn’t influenced by Bugs Bunny is a liar… or a hack.”

This is so good:

HT: Barnabas

Christ and Pop Culture’s Precarious Reality

Richard Clark provides an update on how you can help CaPC achieve an important goal: sustainability!

The Feminist Conundrum

Chris Martin:

I ask the same question I asked before to feminists, and really just everyone generally: we cool with this? Is this the sort of empowerment we’re cool with?

Are we cool with empowerment even at the cost of self-objectification?

I’m not comfortable with the female body being flaunted as a means of power, but if the female is OK with it, am I supposed to be?

Is it sexist of me to think women are demeaning themselves when they objectify themselves?

Is Marriage “Just a Piece of Paper”?

R.C. Sproul:

In the past few decades, the option of living together, rather than moving into a formal marriage contract, has proliferated in our culture. Christians must be careful not to establish their precepts of marriage (or any other ethical dimension of life) on the basis of contemporary community standards. The Christian’s conscience is to be governed not merely by what is socially acceptable or even by what is legal according to the law of the land, but rather by what God sanctions.

Unfortunately, some Christians have rejected the legal and formal aspects of marriage, arguing that marriage is a matter of private and individual commitment between two people and has no legal or formal requirements. These view marriage as a matter of individual private decision apart from external ceremony. The question most frequently asked of clergymen on this matter reflects the so-called freedom in Christ: “Why do we have to sign a piece of paper to make it legal?”

Does Titus 1:15 Mean Christians Can Watch South Park?

Mike Leake:

It’s Wednesday evening and fifteen Bible college students are huddled together in a single dorm room. In a couple of years these students will be sent out into the wild world of church ministry. Some will be pastors. Some will be youth pastors. Others music ministers. And some will end up selling insurance. But on this night they are shoulder-to-shoulder in this tiny room, fixated on the television screen.

South Park is on, and these guys are following their weekly tradition of catching a new episode and laughing along.

How can guys training for the ministry watch South Park together for entertainment?

Does ISIS Represent True Islam?

This is an important conversation.

What we get wrong about church discipline

medium_8311718600

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of stories come to light about evangelical churches practicing “shunning” as part of church discipline. This typically happens as part of the final stage of church discipline, when a congregation member persists in unrepentant sin is excommunicated—and then cut off socially, with friends (and sometimes family!) actively distancing themselves socially.

And herein lies the problem.

The key passages on church discipline

There are a few key passages of the New Testament that describe church discipline, the most famous being Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

The first deals with personal sin in general, while the second deals explicitly with sexual immorality (specifically, a church member who was having [a possibly incestuous, but regardless incredibly icky] adultery with his father’s wife).

There is a simple point here: habitual, unrepentant sin in all its forms should not associated with the people of God. Whether someone is a perpetual gossip, slanderer, malcontent, fornicator or adulterer, these things should not be known of among us, at least, not if we are to be people who are above reproach.

About the gentile and the tax collector…

But notice, something else, something very important that we see in Matthew 18:17: “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

What Jesus says here is what is so often missed in our approach to church discipline (or more correctly, in the approaches of certain mega-churches): we forget that we have an active role to play in the offender’s restoration. We are called to pursue them with the gospel.

Before going further, I want to be 100 per cent clear: I am absolutely for church discipline, provided the way we handle it is biblical.

So consider Jesus for a moment. During His earthly ministry, we find numerous occasions where Jesus commends the Gentile’s faith, rather than the Israelite’s. Among them, the Syrophonecian woman (Mark 7:24-30), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-45), and the official at Capernum (John 4:46-54). And among the tax collectors, we see no less than two breathtaking examples of repentance, including the apostle Matthew (9:9-13), and Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10). In both instances, Jesus makes it very clear: His mission is to seek and save the lost. He does not pursue the righteous but sinners to repentance.

In other words, in church discipline we are to treat unrepentant offenders as though they are not believers. Which necessarily means we are called to share the gospel with them. 

Restorative and evangelistic1

And yet, it seems we’ve forgotten this. Instead of pursuing those who have been “handed over to Satan” with the gospel, we entirely ostracize them. We are right to not permit them to serve in the church, to bar them from taking communion and no longer recognize their profession of faith as genuine until proven otherwise. But, we may go further in our application of this than Scripture does in the way many churches cut off contact.

Again, to be clear: we must be absolutely committed to the purity of the Church. All who continually besmirch the name of Christ through their ongoing, unrepentant sin should be dealt with appropriately. But we still face a tension: without compromising the purity of the body, we need to consider how we pursue these people evangelistically.

Yes, they are to be cut off from fellowship, as Paul says—but we also need to show fearful mercy to someone continues in sin, even as we carefully protect the purity of the Church—we are called to both reprove and exhort. We tear down pride with the Word and build up in humility. This is what Jude stresses in the final verses of his epistle when he writes, “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).

Thwarting the schemes of the devil

We are not alone in our goofing on this. It seems the Corinthians fell into the same trap. Prior to writing 2 Corinthians, word came to Paul that while the church had, largely, repented of their rebellion against Paul and apostolic teaching, they had not reconciled with the one who was responsible for the rebellion. And so, Paul encouraged them to forgive and be reconciled.

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

“Reaffirm your love for him,” he wrote, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan.” There is nothing the devil loves more than to mar the name of the church. And when we handle discipline wrongly—when we fail to pursue those who persist in unrepentant sin with the gospel and welcome those who have turned away from their sin back—we are undone. The devil “wins”.

So yes, let’s practice church discipline, biblically. Let’s also make sure our practice includes the earnest pursuit of those in sin with the gospel, so that they might come to repentance and fellowship can be restored.

 

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Silver bullet ministry

Craig Schafer:

By all accounts I am a stereotypical, standard, plain vanilla, suburban church pastor. And that’s pretty much what the ministry is like at our church: there is absolutely nothing hip or cutting-edge about us. We’re not a funky inner-city church plant. We don’t meet in a disused theatre.

We’re not close to any major tourist attraction. We haven’t started several networked extension services. We’re just a normal, suburban church. It is true that people say two of our pastors look like movie stars—but they mean Ben Stiller and Jack Black, so I’m not sure that really helps us in the attractional ministry stakes. (Having said that, they’re both better pastors than I am, so it is very handy to have them around.)

All the same, I think it’s instructive to reflect on how gospel-centred DNA drives the ministry practice in stereotypical vanilla suburban churches like mine—and quite possibly like yours.

Listening When You Shouldn’t

Leon Brown:

If you notice someone is hurting, and that person begins to share the details of the situation, you may want to consider asking that individual to refrain from sharing specifics of the circumstances, which may include names, dates, location, etc. I know it may be difficult, but many times we have no business knowing all of the details. Do not let curiosity lead you down the wrong path. Do not let your desires to be sympathetic cause you to hear details you should not. You may end up getting involved in gossip, hearing false details, and making wrong conclusions. We need to be there for each during difficulties, but even then we must be cautious.

Jesus-Juking for the Gospel

Derek Rishmawy:

Still, I wonder about the modern-day “Christ” party among us. It’s pretty easy to spot that sort of thing on the progressive wing of things: people who boast about being anti-power, anti-empire, anti-celebrity, anti-Evangelical-entertainment-industrial complex, all the while getting “I am of Boyd” and “I am of Hauerwas” tattooed on their firstborns. (You Anabaptists know I still love you, right? Well, some of you at least.) Deeper still, though, are the theological approaches that tend to relativize formal teaching structures in the name of the some vague, ‘way of Jesus’–modern-day heirs of those that Luther and Calvin deemed the “enthusiasts” during the Reformation.

The Death of Adulthood

Matthew Lee Anderson:

We’ve reached the end of adulthood in America according to AO Scott. Or at least of the patriarchal version of it, anyway, which Scott sees in three paradigmatic dramas of our era—Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Sopranos, whose protagonists and their downfalls allow us to “marvel at the mask of masculine incompetence even as we watched it slip or turn ugly.”  On Scott’s reading, “in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grownups.”  It’s a provocative, sweeping hypothesis of the sort that are useful for engendering conversations, even if it doesn’t stand up under analysis.

And it may not.

Are You Leeching the Local Church?

Ryan Shelton:

When I was a teen, I bought into the very fashionable assumption that the local church would only cramp my style and put a barrier to “authentic spirituality.” I stopped attending for a while until I got wind of a hip, cool church across town that was full of attractive, young, relevant people. The music was great, the preaching was edgy, and the atmosphere was exciting.

For months, I drove all the way across town, nearly an hour each way, to attend services at the church that “got it.” It was a booming place, with six fully packed services each weekend. And if I arrived late, I was turned away because the fire department was keeping a close eye on the safety capacity.

It all ended for me one week, when the pastor said something that disturbed me.

When the fear of God is dictator in the heart

cease

“Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isa. 8:13). The fear of God will swallow up the fear of man. A reverential awe and dread of God will extinguish the creature’s slavish fear, as the rain puts out the fire. To sanctify the Lord of hosts is to acknowledge the glory of His sovereign power, wisdom, and faithfulness. It includes not only a verbal confession, but internal acts of trust, confidence, and entire dependence upon Him. These are our choicest respects towards God, and give Him the greatest glory. Moreover, they are the most beneficial and comfortable acts we perform for our own peace and safety in times of danger. If we look to God in the day of trouble, fear Him as the Lord of hosts (i.e., the One who governs all creatures and commands all the armies of heaven and earth), and rely upon His care and love as a child depends upon his father’s protection, then we will know rest and peace. Who would be afraid to pass through the midst of armed troops and regiments, if he knew that the general was his own father? The more this filial fear has power over our hearts, the less we will dread the creature’s power. When the dictator ruled at Rom, then all other officers ceased. Likewise, when the fear of God is dictator in the heart, all other fears will (in great measure) cease.

John Flavel, Triumphing Over Sinful Fear (5-6)