Did the Resurrection Happen… Really? By McDowell and Sterrett

In the first two books of their Coffee House Chronicles series, authors Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett introduced us to a group of students (and a couple of instructors) who, together,  go on a journey through the evidence surrounding the reliability of the Bible and the truth of Jesus Christ’s identity.

At the end of book two, Who Was Jesus… Really?, Nick’s friend Andrea had placed her trust in Christ has Lord and Savior—as did Dr. Peterson, Nick’s professor who had spent much of his life and career casting doubt upon the reliability of the New Testament accounts and the person and work of Jesus Christ. So powerfully convinced was he that he held a lecture recanting of his former positions against Christ and detailing the evidence for His existence and the truth of His divinity.

The final book of the series starts off with a bang (literally) as, in the wake of Dr. Peterson’s lecture on the deity of Christ, tension on campus is at an all time high. Dr. Peterson and Jamal Washington began receiving death threats, but ultimately believed it to be nothing more than someone blowing smoke—until one day, when Brett (a pre-med student and member of the school’s atheist club) travels to Dr. Peterson’s office to talk more about Jesus.

As he approaches the building, he sees students begin to run out in a panic. A young woman collapses on the lawn, her shirt covered in blood. Someone had opened fire on the Religious Studies building. In the end, nine people were killed, including Jamal Washington, Nick Ridley (two primary characters in the first two books) and the shooter himself.

In the wake of this tragedy, Dr. Peterson, Mina, Andrea and Jessica begin a series of conversations with Brett, Lauren and Scott about one of the most central issues of the Christian faith:

Did the Resurrection Happen . . . Really?

It’s fair to say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the issue upon which the entire Christian faith stands or falls. “[I]f Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins,” wrote the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15:17. Because Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins, His literal, physical resurrection is a sign of God’s vindication of Him (for the Jews believed that one who was crucified was cursed of God). As the authors put it, “Without the resurrection, Christianity doesn’t work” (p. 27). [Read more...]

Book Review: Who is Jesus…Really? by McDowell and Sterrett

Title: Who is Jesus . . . Really?
Authors: Josh McDowell & Dave Sterrett
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2011)

In the first book of the Coffee House Chronicles series, Is the Bible True… Really?, co-authors Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett introduced readers to Nick, a freshman student at a State school in Texas who’s faith is put to the test when confronted with the hard questions about the reliability of the Bible.

In book two of the series, Who is Jesus . . . Really?, we find Nick has gone on to lead a student Bible Study that meets in a local coffee house and things are great—until the school’s atheist club arrives with a series of hostile questions about the identity of Jesus Christ. Among the group’s members is Nick’s friend Andrea, who had followed him along the journey of discovering the truth about the Bible, but rejected God after the death of a close cousin.

Nick and friends Jamal, Jessica and Mina begin a series of conversations with Andrea and her friends Brett, Scott and Lauren to discover if the claims of Christianity about Jesus are reliable. Along the way, they learn that:

1. If one trusts the historical evidence for the existence of Socrates, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, one must also accept the evidence for the existence of Christ. In fact, it can be reasonably argued that there is more evidence for Christ’s existence than of any of these men. Likewise, His existence is verified through multiple sources, not only Christian, but Greek, Roman and Jewish. Each source confirms the crucifixion of Christ and the subsequent worshipping of Him as God by His followers. [Read more...]

The Greatest Gifts Can Become Deadly Substitutes for God

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18–20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.

Jesus said some people hear the word of God, and a desire for God is awakened in their hearts. But then, “as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life” (Luke 8:14). In another place he said, “The desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). “The pleasures of this life” and “the desires for other things”—these are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and potatoes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV-watching and Internet-surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.

John Piper, A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer, 14-15.

HT: Adrian Warnock

My Memory Moleskine: Philippians 1:27-30

I (along with a whole lot of other people) am now four weeks into memorizing the book of Philippians. When I started the project back on January 1, I wasn’t sure how things would look by the end of January. Would I be right on track, a little bit behind—or would I have called it quits thinking it was too hard?

Well, I’ve not called it quits, and I’m a week ahead on the schedule, which is pretty cool. But I did find this week to be one of the most challenging so far, despite having only four verses to memorize. Wednesday, I thought I’d done a pretty good job of getting Phil 1:29-30 down -

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him, but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

(And yes, I did type that from memory if you’re wondering.)

Thursday morning, though, I went through a run-through of the chapter and after I got finished reciting verse 28… I just blanked.

All 43 words. Poof! Completely disappeared.

That was incredibly annoying.

One of the really great things that I’ve seen come out of this project so far has been seeing other people start to gain a desire to memorize Scripture as well. Last Friday I was surprised to learn that while I was off at the Truth Xchange Think Tank, my men’s group had decided to take up the discipline of memorizing Scripture. Their choice? Philippians 4:6-7.

One of the older gentlemen in the group mentioned to me during our prayer meeting on Tuesday that he’s starting to memorize the whole book, too.

It’s very cool to see how God is using this project in the lives of other people.

Next week: Philippians 2 (and if I can muster up the courage, I’ll even try reciting Phil 1:1-30 on video).

How was this week of partnering to remember for you?

Your Cause Can’t Be More Important than Christ

Really appreciated this clip from a recent sermon in Mark Driscoll’s ongoing series on the gospel of Luke:

Transcript follows:

Now let me say this: the way you become religious is when you’re about your small-k kingdom instead of God’s capital-K Kingdom. That’s why Jesus brings it back to a theology of the kingdom. He looks and says, “Here’s how you get in trouble and become religious. Your kingdom, not mine. Your name, not mine. Your fame, not mine. Your glory, not mine.” It’s not about us, it’s all about Jesus. And what happens for those who are into their own kingdom, they replace Christ with cause. Okay, for the religious people here, they were into their kingdom, not Jesus’ kingdom. They were into their cause, not Christ. That’s the problem.

What’s your cause? What’s your thing? Some of you are single-issue voters. You really only care deeply about one thing. Some of you have causes that are more “Christian” in orientation. Children, midwives, homeschooling, Christian schooling, public schooling, school choice, conservative politics, pro-life. Certain kind of student ministry, youth ministry, family ministry. Certain kind of musical style. Certain theological system. Certain author. What’s your cause…? [Read more...]

Healthy Examination of the Soul

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.

On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.

—Luke 9:7-11—

Occasional retirement, self-inquiry, meditation, and secret communion with God, are absolutely essential to spiritual health. The man who neglects them is in great danger of a fall. To be always preaching, teaching, speaking, writing, and working public works, is, unquestionably, a sign of zeal. But it is not always a sign of zeal according to knowledge. It often leads to adverse consequences. We must make time occasionally for sitting down and calmly looking within, and examining how matters stand between our own selves and Christ. The omission of the practice is the true account of many a backsliding which shocks the Church, and gives occasion to the world to blaspheme.

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke

HT: J.C. Ryle Quotes

Ministry Idolatry

A great excerpt from Mark Driscoll’s message from the Advance09 conference:

The full length video is available below & is well worth spending an hour or so watching. In it, Driscoll asks 11 questions about ministry idolatry:

  1. Attendance idolatry: Does your joy change when your attendance does?
  2. Gift idolatry: Do you feel that God needs you and uses you because you are so skilled?
  3. Truth idolatry: Do you consider yourself more righteous than more simple Christians?
  4. Fruit idolatry: Do you point to your success as evidence of God’s approval of you?
  5. Method idolatry: Do you worship your method as your mediator?
  6. Tradition idolatry: What traditions are you upholding that are thwarting the forward progress of the gospel?
  7. Office idolatry: Are you motivated primarily by God’s glory or your title?
  8. Success idolatry: Is winning what motivates you at the deepest level?
  9. Ministry idolatry: Do you use the pressure of ministry to make you walk with God?
  10. Innovative idolatry: Does it matter to you that your ministry be considered unique?
  11. Leader idolatry: Who, other than Christ, are you imaging?

Cliff Notes from the Xchange

Recently I spent a few days in Escondido, California, basking in the mid-teen temperatures (sorry, folks, I still think Celsius when it comes to temperatures), enjoying the sunshine… and taking part in the TruthXchange 2011 Think Tank. The theme of the conference was One-ism: A Poison Pill for the Church?

Building on the messages from The Exchange Conference in 2010, the Think Tank addressed issues of the gospel, social justice, environmentalism, spirituality, missiology, gender, worship, education, eschatology, literature and epistemology (that is, thinking). While my full notes would be too intense (I’ve got something like 12,000 words worth), I wanted to share some highlights from the sessions I most appreciated.

The One-ist Gospel

Brian Mattson spoke on the One-ist gospel by examining Brian McLaren’s most recent book, A New Kind of Christianity, asking two key questions:

Is McLaren’s Christianity new—and is it really Christian at all?

The answer to both of these questions, says Mattson is no. McLaren’s new kind of Christianity is nothing more than classical Enlightenment liberalism. Mattson’s analysis suggests that the gospel put forth in this book (and by many like-minded thinkers within the Emergent stream of evangelicalism), is actually Universalism, which is necessarily Gnostic, not Christian.

In the Gnostic gospels, you’d run across a motif that runs through all of them; it’s not enough for the Gnostics to claim that the “violent, tribal deity” is a lesser God—they call Yahweh, the God of the Bible an ignorant God; “the bastard child deity of a screw-up.”

The explanation is elegant and simple. The God revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures claims to be the only God. He actually says “I am the only God and there is no other.” His ignorance is manifest in his claim of exclusivity.

On the one hand there’s a God who claims to be the only God, to whom all allegiance is owed. On the other, there’s a group of people saying, “no, this cannot be true because divine love is universal.”

The question is, how do they know?

They know because they are “Gnostic.” He can claim that he is the only God to whom all allegiance is owed, but they know better.

All claims to Universalism are claims to have access to spiritual knowledge beyond bounds of God’s revelation. It goes all the way back to the first temptation in the garden; his “new kind of Christianity” is actually the oldest kind of heresy. [Read more...]

A Movement of Personalities

From The Gospel Coalition:

Big personalities have always played a big role in the American church. Some celebrity preachers (like George Whitefield and John Piper) encourage us with their faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Others (like Charles Finney and Joel Osteen) raise serious concerns. The latter make you wonder if there is any hope for an evangelical movement that fills their churches and buy their books.

Earlier this year I [Collin Hansen] discussed these issues of celebrity evangelicalism and more with my friends and fellow writers Owen Strachan and Justin Taylor. We live in a time when God has evidently blessed the ministry of many godly teachers. For that we can give thanks! But we also know form history that movements dependent on personalities rises and fall with them. So we discuss the differences between speaking at conferences and leading in the local church according to biblical guidelines.

Hansen, Taylor and Strachan offer some terrific insights in this video, particularly the need to evaluate carefully what we hear from these men that are really leaders of certain movements within Evangelicalism, but not to do so in such a way that you’re seeking to tear someone apart. I’d highly encourage giving this a thoughtful viewing.

(HT: Michael Krahn)

Book Review: By Grace Alone by Sinclair B. Ferguson

Title: By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me
Author: Sinclair Ferguson
Publisher: Reformation Trust (2010)

Does the grace of God amaze you?

Does the salvation that comes through faith in Christ overwhelm you with excitement and joy?

It did Emmanuel T. Sibomana, inspiring him to write they hymn, “Umbuntu Bg Imana,” translated into English as, “O How the Grace of God Amazes Me.” Sibomana’s hymn is a beautiful and powerful exposition of the story of salvation and the grace of God.

It’s also the inspiration for Sinclair Ferguson’s latest book, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me. Following the structure of Sibomana’s hymn, Ferguson reflects on God’s grace from seven angles and shows us why the grace of God should amaze us.

A question that may come to mind when considering this book is, “Why do we need (another) book on grace?”

“Being amazed by God’s grace is a sign of spiritual vitality. . .  Yet we frequently take the grace of God for granted. . . . We have lost the joy and energy that are experienced when grace seems truly amazing,” writes Ferguson (Introduction, p. xiv).

In other words, if our amazement at God’s grace is a sign of our spiritual wellbeing, to take it for granted is an indicator that, spiritually speaking, we’re desperately sick. To regain our health, we must regain a sense of wonder when considering His grace.

So what does grace do, exactly?

Ferguson breaks it down quite effectively. Grace… [Read more...]

All About Doing, Never About Believing

How painfully self–righteous are many! They can talk complacently about having “done their duty,” and being “kind to everybody,” and having always “kept to their church,” and having “never been so very bad” as some, and therefore they seem to think they must go to heaven! And as to deep sense of sin and simple faith in Christ’s blood and sacrifice, it seems to have no place in their religion. Their talk is all of doing and never of believing. And will such self–righteousness as this land anyone in heaven? Never! Without faith, without Christ!

J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, pp. 305, 306

HT: J.C. Ryle Quotes

Will We Worship or Curse?

[I]t is not surprising that when Christ came into the world, all nature bowed to his authority. He commanded the wind and it obeyed. And when the disciples saw it they wondered. And then worshiped. “And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat. . . . And [Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. . . . [The disciples] were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?’” (Mark 4:37-41).

Water obeyed Jesus in more ways than one. When he commanded, it became “solid” under his feet, and he walked on it. When the disciples saw this they “worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:33). Another time, he commanded water, and it became wine at the wedding of Cana. In response, John says, he “manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). Wind and water do whatever the Lord Jesus tells them to do. Be still. Bear weight. Become wine. Natural laws were made by Christ and alter at his bidding.

The composition of all things was not only created by Christ (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), but is also held in being moment by moment throughout the whole universe by his will. “He . . . upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). “In him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Jesus Christ defines reality in the beginning and gives it form every second.

Fatalities, fevers, fish, food, fig trees. Anywhere you turn, Christ is the absolute master over all material substance…

Now we have a choice. Worship or curse. . . . Will we worship or will we curse the One who rules the world? Shall sinners dictate who should live and who should die? Or shall we say with Hannah, “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol [the grave] and raises up” (1 Samuel 2:6)? And shall we, with ashes on our heads, worship with Job, “Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21)? Will we learn from James that there is good purpose in it all: “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is com- passionate and merciful” (James 5:11)?

John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, pp. 45-47