Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Persecution, Slander, & Ridicule

Within our current American context, you usually here Christians talking about persecution of American Christians in one of two ways. Either they blow everything out of proportion and claim every little inconvenience is persecution, or they completely deny persecution exists in America.

I am not sure if we will ever face persecution in America. It certainly is a possibility, and we need to be prepared for it as believers. Sometimes I think the problem that will face us with be similar to what happened in Europe--that is, instead of becoming a culture that seeks to repress Christianity it will instead become a culture in which Christian belief is irrelevant. Why repress what no one longer believes?

However, there are signs of emerging persecution in the United States. The rise of organizations like the ADF (American Defense Fund) to legally protect against discrimination of Christians & Christian beliefs in the public square does indicate a growing problem (FYI, a lawyer we know & dear family friend--Jeff Johnson--has just joined the ADF & operates in the Michigan satellite. ADF is a great organization that all Christians in American should be aware of).

Another sign of emerging persecution is the ridicule Christians increasingly face. This occurs as early as elementary school, but certainly it is more serious in its adult forms. Take a university course (pick any subject you want) and your bound to eventually find a professor who uses his class (whether it be English, Religion, History, Algebra, or whatever) as a bully-pulpit to ridicule Christianity. I am part of a couple professional organizations (American Counseling Association & a couple of professional philosophy groups) were "Christian-bashing" repeatedly takes place. The APA (American Psychological Association) is particular well-known for this type of behavior.

This is of course nothing new. Ridicule of Christians is as old as Christianity itself. In last week's Sunday evening service, we discussed persecution that is facing the worldwide church. As part of the sermon, I showed a 1st century graffiti mocking a Christian named Alexemos. The crude drawing, etched in stone as a permanent record of hatred and intolerance, shows a young man worshipping someone of the cross (an obvious reference to Christ). Offensively, Christ is given the head of a jackass. Our modern day 'artistic' forms of ridicule (the Da Vinci Code, the Last Temptation of Christ, the guy who urinated in a jar & put a crucifix in it) are not even original. Mocking Christ has already been done 2,000 years ago.

It is also important to note that ridicule is just the beginning. Ridicule, by necessity, must change form. It must become more intense. It will either accomplish its goal of eradicating belief (as in Europe), or it will turn into outright persecution. If ridicule wins, belief silently dies away. If ridicule begins to lose, or become impatient (and it eventually will), then belief will be violently suppressed.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

But God told me...

We have all heard it, and most of us have done it. A common phrase seems to be incessantly on the lips of Evangelical believers: "The Lord told me".

Read a missionary newsletter.

Listen to members talking in the church foyer.

Listen to your own speech as you talk about the new job you took.

...It is everywhere.

It does seem strange that Baptists get so frustrated with the charismatic movement, with their emphasis on the miraculous gifts and modern prophecies, yet Baptists run around claiming "the Lord told me" all the time. I'm not really seeing a big difference here. At least the charismatics limit the gift of prophecy to a few individuals within the local church. Baptist apparently have prophets coming out of the woodwork.

It seems to me that we too easily confuse either (1) our desires or (2) our consciences for the will of God (and I also believe we completely misunderstand what is meant biblical by the "will of God", but that is another discussion.

Within the next day I will be posting a lengthy article on my Puritan Soul blog directly relating to this subject. It will be looking at the role of conscience, and the misunderstanding of the Spirit's communicative activity with the believer. Hope you enjoy.

Update on the New Living Translation (NLT)

In an earlier post (see here), I had discussed my opinion regarding a variety of Bible translations. One of those translations was the NLT, which I gave a favorable review (though I recommended that it should not be used as one's primary Bible).

Shortly after I wrote the post, a Bible Marketing person from Tyndale contacted me about the post and informed me that the NLT was updated a few years ago. Sadly, I was unaware of this. She actually sent me a reference copy of the updated version for my review. Way to go Tyndale!

I have been digging into this updated NLT for the past couple of weeks and am greatly pleased with it. The 1996 edition still had that "Living Bible Paraphrase" feel to it, which thankfully is greatly subdued in this new edition. Also, in several instances I found the new edition was closer to the Greek (my Hebrew skills are a bit lacking for critical analysis).

It still has a tendency to replace a biblical idiom for a modern one - even many times when the biblical idiom is (or at least can be) easily understood by a modern audience. Also, it tends to overtranslate for my tastes.

However, all in all, I must admit this new edition is much more accurate and trustworthy. Before I had recommended to use the NLT only as an aid to understand your regular bible. Now I feel confident to upgrade my recommendation. The New Living Translation would be an excellent "general use" bible. It would be good for devotions, private reading, and other general use purposes. I would still recommended a more literal translation for serious bible study.

FYI, for those who love tidbits of personal information: One of the translators of the Gospel of Matthew in the NLT was one of my New Testament Studies professors--David Turner. In fact, one of the courses I took from him was "The Gospel of Matthew".

Spurgeon quote


"I am amazed that those who think so much of what the Holy Spirit can teach them often think so little of what the Holy Spirit has taught others"

-Charles Spurgeon

Monday, January 29, 2007

Calvinists are Cool

I am a Calvinist. Yes, I have said it and it is now a matter of public record. You may start throwing stones at any time, burn me at the stake, or put me on the rack.

Now, don't get me wrong. I have also been strongly influenced by "Arminian" thought. Movements that have impacted me include Pietism, Weslyan-Holiness, Methodism, and Keswick influences. I greatly enjoy reading the sermons of John Wesley and truly appreciate the emphasis on personal holiness found in many arminian movements (though sectors of Calvinism have also emphasized this, such as Whitefield Methodism and Puritanism).

But all in all, I am a strong Calvinist. The real troubling news for some is that I am a "slobbering 5-point Calvinist", to borrow a phrase from Mark Dever.

If you are an Arminian, at this point you are most likely wondering why? Perhaps with baseball fans of an earlier age your heart is crying "Say it ain't so, Josh". But alas, tis true. I'll save a point-by-point Biblical defense of Calvinism for another time. Let me use this space to praise the practical effects of a strong Calvinism.

1. Calvinism is Missions-Minded. Yes, despite centuries of false claims that Calvinism leads to passivity regarding missions, the historical record indicates that Calvinism seeks to spread knowledge of the Sovereignty of God throughout the nations. It was only Hyper-Calvinism, which sprang up centuries after Calvin in England that began to teach the ridiculous notion that offering the Gospel to sinners would some how be offensive to God and misleading to the sinner. Books such as Piper's The Supremacy of God in Missions has become a virtual "missions manifesto" for an entire generation of Missionaries and Mission organizations. The fact is that Calvinism recognizes the Supremacy of God, and will not rest until the entire world is confronted and conformed by that Supremacy.

2. Calvinism is Evangelistic. J.I. Packer's magisterial little book Evangelism and the Soveriegnty of God boldly calls all Calvinists to engage in Evangelism. It rightly recognizes that if God calls someone to Discipleship, then part of that calling is to do something. That something is Evangelism. Packer understands that it is nonsense to say that one is elect, but deny the very thing you are elected to do. Other great Calvinists such as George Whitefield evangelized because of his Calvinism, not despite it.

3. Calvinism contends for the Gospel. Throughout the centuries men with great minds have risen up to defend the faith from challenges and attacks - both from without and within the Evangelical world. Owen, Machen, Edwards, Warfield, Hodge, Spurgeon, Schaeffer, Machen, Gill, Charnock, Flavel, MacLaren (no, not Brian! sheeesh!), Sibbes, Bavinck, Van Til, and a host of others sprang into action to teach and protect the Church. In our own era we are blessed with such minds as MacArthur, Piper, Dever, Horton, Sproul, Mohler, Ferguson, and many others. With the broader Evangelical community consistently water-down the gospel (see below), and the never-ending pressure to play nice and join the inter-faith "dialogue" movement, these intellectual giants consistently call us back to an informed, Biblical understanding of our faith. With the rallying cries of Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus, Sola gratia, and Soli Deo gloria, Calvinism has always sought to protect the Gospel message from heresy, misunderstanding, and lax application.

4. Calvinism is inherently Biblical. The Biblical evidence for Calvinism is massive. Almost every page, from the very first Chapter, breathes this message. As many Calvinist rightly point out (if somewhat arrogantly), "Calvinism" is simply another word for "Biblical". Of course, this is not to deny that some passage (in the extreme minority) have an Arminian flavor. This should not be denied. Yet it seems strange that so many people want to build a theology on a few verses, when the overwhelming majority teach Calvinism.

5. Calvinism refuses to water-down the Gospel. In an age of mega-churches, the seeker-movement, the emergent movement, the church-growth movement, the health-and-wealth gospel, or simple white-suburban-churchly-evangelical-"goo", Calvinism is the champion for a well-informed and deeply biblical church membership. "Leaving childish things behind", Calvinism urges people to dig into God's word and allow the deep-wells of life-giving water to nourish. A watered-down Gospel does not challenge. It allows people to live in spiritual laxity (the Bible calls that "sin"). Calvinism continually confronts people with the radical demands of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

6. Calvinism is Cool. Let's face it, Calvinism is "in". Young 20-somethings and 30-somethings are flocking to it. Disallusioned with the seeker-movement of our parents, insulted by the spiritual wasteland of the emergent movement, and irritated by the anti-intellectualism of extreme fundamentalism, the upcoming generation is turning to the freshing substance of Calvinism. It comes complete with T-shirts, bumber stickers (denise, that comment is for you - let's change this world one bumber sticker at a time!!!) and coffee mugs of your favorite Reformers! (I'm not kidding, either. Look at my John Calvin coffee mug in the office for proof).
Actually, I found a website where you can even get Calvin-kiddie wear (bibs, baby clothes, and just about everything else). Parents, you want your kids to be cool right? Then make sure they are Calvinists! :o)

OK, OK. Yes there are a couple of negatives. Many Calvinists historically have been a bit bull-headed and nit-picky. Some have been downright wacko. And then there was that whole "hyper-Calvinsim" movement that caused so much trouble and just won't seem to go away (though it has been regulated to the Calvinist version of the extreme fundamentalist movement - and nobody really pays attention to them). Also, many Calvinists have seemed more concerned to teach Calvinism than to teach Christ. A little more grace practiced by the supposed holders to the "doctrines of Grace" would be nice, wouldn't it?

All in all, Calvinism is cool. Sorry my Arminianist friends. I still love you, and always will, but you are so uncool!

:0)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Are Baptists the new leaders of Racial hatred?

The following is a quote from a book I am currently reading [see Note 1]:

"In 1989 George Gallup Jr and James Castelli published the results of a survey to determine which groups in the United States were least and most likely to object to having black neighbors--surely a good measure of racism. Catholics and non-Evangelical Christians ranked least likely to object to black neighbors; 11 percent objected. Mainline Protestants came next at 16 percent. At 17 percent, Baptists and Evangelicals were among the most likely groups to object to black neighbors, and 20 percent of Southern Baptists objected to black neighbors" [see Note 2].

Wow! 1 out of 5 Baptists in the South admitted to blatant racism. Baptists not aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention were only slightly less racist. Assuming that many racists were not willing to admit their racism to a polling group, one can only imagine what are the real statistics.

The African-American community in Michigan has long realized Northern Michigan is a center of racism. According to some statistics, Michigan has more members in the KKK than any other Northern state. The Michigan-militia movement of last decade, headquartered in Northern Michigan, was explicitly tied to racist ideaology. Certainly these are extreme movements, clearly identifiable as evil to almost all Christians. But these movements are simply extreme versions of the sentiment present in the lives of many believers.

Perhaps the best indicator of racism is the refusal of Baptist and Evangelical Christians to discuss the issue. Pay attention to this following quote. In a conversation with a friend who denied any hint of racism in his own church, he told me: "We are not racists at all. We never even talk about blacks, and I never even think about them. You can't hate someone if you don't even think about them."

Amazing! As the old saying goes, the opposite of love isn't hate, it is indifference. Now it is easier to understand why white Christians object to black neighbors.........they just don't want to think about them, or their own racism that is still down deep inside.

Are Baptists the new leaders of racial hatred? No. We've been the uncontested leaders for quite some time.


Note 1: Ronald J. Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 24-25.

Note 2: Sider sites statistics gathered from the following source: George Gallup Jr. and James Castelli, The People's Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 188.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Books currently on the top of the stack



The Jesus Creed, Scott McNight.

This is without a doubt the most enjoyable book I am currently reading. It is written in a fun and engaging style. It highlights what is perhaps THE central teaching of Jesus: that we are to (1) love God, and (2) love others. McKnight does a great job explaining how Jesus took the Old Testament Shema (love God) and combined it with an ethical duty towards others. This core teaching of Jesus is the heart and soul of true Christianity.



Don't Waste Your Life, John Piper

Everything John Piper writes is excellent, but this certainly is one of his best gems. Also, since it is fairly short I find it easier to recommend this rather than some of his other stuff (Desiring God is perhaps the best, but it is a bit tedious reading for many believers). This book boldly calls us to live to the glory of God in every aspect of our lives.



The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, Ronald Sider

No stranger to controversial issues, Ron Sider takes an inside look at American Christianity, and the diagnosis is heartbreaking: We do not live according to the truth that we proclaim. We lack compassion. We lack mercy. We lack care for the suffering and poor. But we sadly excel at divorce, anger, scandal, and every other vice imaginable. What will it take to get Christians to live as God intended?



Fundamentalism and American Culture, George Marsden

This is part of my ongoing 'scholarly' study on the history of fundamentalism/evangelicalism. Marsden has published several books related to the fundamentalist movement, and is perhaps the premiere scholar in this area. Fundamentalism is seen, with all of its successes and failures. Also, this book does an excellent job allowing us to see how fundamentalism as we now know it was shaped just as much by philosophical & cultural forces as it was by scriptural committments. A fascinating study.



Matthew, 3 vols: International Critical Commentary Series (ICC)
Davies & Allison

Without a doubt, this is the most scholarly work on Matthew in the English language. Not recommended for the general reader (since each volume costs like $75 and requires knowledge of Greek). Lord willing, I will be mining gems from this magisterial work for many years to come.



Matthew: The Christbook: Chapters 1-12, Fredrick Dale Bruner

This is perhaps my favorite commentary on Matthew (part 2 is called The Churchbook). It seeks to bring out Matthew's theological message. Although Bruner sometimes strains to teach Systematic Theology via Matthew, his exegesis is sound and his insights profound. A must have for any series student of Matthew.



The Sermon on the Mount, Martin Lloyd-Jones

John Stott rightly called this book "a spiritual classic". It is the best treatment of the Sermon on the Mount that I have ever read. Originally a series of sermons preached from his pulpit, they have been gathered together and published in one large volume. I regularly use this as part of my devotional reading and for my sermon preparation (as I am teaching Matthew on Sunday nights).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

On the reading of many books

(This is a old post from my other blog site: Puritan Soul. Yes, I know reposting it here is 'cheating', but I really liked this post. Enjoy!)

Recently I dusted off my copy of C.S. Lewis' book "An Experiment in Criticism". For many years I have loved Lewis, beginning no doubt in late adolescents when I discovered the Chronicles of Naria. From there, I began to grab his other fictional writings and finally (years later) made the transition to his truly good stuff. But even when I was fully engulfed in Lewis-mania, I viewed "An Experiment in Criticism" as a horribly dry and lifeless book. Of course, at that time I hadn't read it but the title certainly wasn't very appealing.

Oddly enough, higher education does change a man. Subjects like "Hermeneutics" and "Literary Criticism" began to arrest my attention. So at some point I began to rethink my earlier pre-judgment on Lewis' "Experiment" and decided to give it a try.

It was simply amazing. Below is one quote among many of my favorites. The tone seems harsh and unloving to our "unliterary" friends, but if you know Lewis I think you will understand he is not looking down on them (at least I hope this to be the case). With that said, I probably would have written this paragraph a little differently. Yet as always, Lewis conveys a message in a way I never could, and it is a message that touches my very soul.

He writes:“Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog.”

"Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality….But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself….Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.” (C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism," pp.140-141)

Why do I read the great spiritual writers of the past (not just Puritans by the way, and not just within the Calvinistic tradition)? Because I then can see the world through their eyes. I can appreciate their point of view. Even more importantly, I can manage to free myself (a little anyway) from the prison called "self" (more on this in a coming post). But most importantly, I can approach God through their eyes. God is too precious and too important to only see with my own eyes. I must learn to appreciate Him as other faithful men and women have. Through their view of the Savior I have come to see His beauty and magnificence through a wider lense.

...pick up and read, my friend. Pick up and read.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Does God care how I dress on Sunday?

A curious pattern is emerging in American Christian worship. It is becoming increasingly common to dress casually for Sunday worship. Blue jeans, T-shirts, shorts, flip-flops are no longer seen as inappropriate for worship by many. Is this new trend good or bad?

The ‘traditional’ approach usually centers around the belief that we “need to wear our best on Sunday”. As the argument goes, “You would wear your best if you were going to meet the king, so you must wear your best when you are going to meet the King of Kings”.

Sounds great. But there is just one problem. Is it Biblical?

Ahhhhh. For Christians, this should be the premiere questions. But all too often we allow tradition to frame our thinking instead of Scripture. In fact, even an honest assessment of tradition would reveal that “dressing up” for worship originates more from European social structures than anything else. The upper class wore their “best” not because it was Sunday and set apart to the Lord, but because they always wore their best on public occasions. As more and more of the lower class moved into the newly emerging “middle class” and found some semblance of wealth, an infatuation with upper class culture prompted them to mimic this behavior. It was only over time that the notion of “wearing your best on Sunday” began to develop.

As I have searched the scriptures on this issue, the most specific thing I can find is a reference that God's covenant people need to wash their clothes before they approach the “tent of meeting” (the precursor to the Old Testament Temple). This is a far cry from "wearing your best". It simply means don't come to the presence of the tent filthy. If we read this in light of most of the Old Testament law, with its emphasis on holiness and cereminonal preparedness, this certainly makes sense.

Of course, the Levitical priests had highly specific garments they needed to wear. But again this is problematic for us. If we believe that we must follow the priests (as opposed to following the commands for the general covenant populace), then what justification do we have for moving from priestly garments to "business dress" (which for some reason is considered the “best” by most)? I know of many churches that have highly successful businessmen & lawyers who wear expensive suits ($1000 - $1500 or more) to work everyday. As such, this is their "common" clothing. Should they then wear a $2000 suit on Sunday because it is their best? Or, even better, my highest quality shirt is "beach-style" silk shirt that I acquired at 90% off when a local high end store went out of business. All together (with its accompanying shorts & high end sandals) is worth well over $600 - this being more expensive than most of my suits. In terms of monetary value & psychological "sense" of worth, this is clearly my best (in fact, I rarely wear it or else the congregation will think they are paying me too much....LOL).

I find the entire argument of "wearing your best" on Sunday (or any worship for that matter) very difficult to sustain from scripture. Usually we end up applying human reason (e.g. if you met the queen of England, wouldn't you wear a suit - then you should do it for the King of kings), cite a couple of peripherially related passages, and then uncritically merge the two. But note that the real authority here is not scripture, but human reason. Does it automatically follow that if I dress up for the queen, I must also dress up for the heavenly King? No, I do not think it does. The queen would be pleased by a subject who presented himself in a stately manner - as Samuel was impresses by Jesse's older sons. But God does not look at such things - as he so clearly demonstrated to Samuel regarding David. In fact, read in this light, we may actually be more scripturally grounded in wearing clean but common clothing on Sunday than on wearing our best clothing. The former fulfills our basic duty but retains a sense of humility. The latter sadly lends itself (not necessarily, i do admit) to a lack of humility.

At the very most, we have good biblical precedent for requiring basic cleanliness.

But, you may argue that wearing our best on Sunday is simple common sense. Maybe so. But the really important question is whether you have justification for applying biblical force to that common sense.

The questions that are before us are:

1) does that principle have biblical force?, and

2) should that principle be universally held in Christendom?

Who mandated that principle (“wear your best”)? I haven't found it in scripture yet (therefore we must say a qualified "no" to question #1). And since it isn't mandated in scripture it falls into the area of freedom of the believer. Probably the best grid to place this through is Paul's weak faith/strong faith grid. For many (my wife for example), it would be a shameful thing for them to attend church without wearing their best. They do this "as unto the Lord" - and as such it is beyond question. I would be sinning against my wife if I were to attack her thinking in this matter. On the other hand, I feel I have the biblical freedom (even if not the social freedom, since I am the pastor) to wear common, everyday clothing to church. I think the *best" scripture refers to always speaks of our behavior, attitudes, spirit, and mind. As such, I wear (theoretically) my common clothing "as unto the Lord". Who are we to question behavior done as unto the Lord? (and therefore must say "no" to question #2 above). Are we really going to claim that things done as unto the Lord dishonor Him without scripture to support us?

We must not forget that originally the very *best* was complete nudity (garden of Eden), so I hardly think we should press the point of clothing ourselves in our best on Sunday morning. What a scandal that would cause!

In the end, it should not matter what we wear to church, if it is done as unto the Lord. I would daresay that most people who attend church do not wear their clothes unto the Lord. This is true of those in suits as well as of those in jeans. Both are dishonoring to God. Perhaps there is a reason why scripture doesn't mandate certain clothing (not even our "best").

Corporate worship is about the people of God coming together to focus on hearing, praising, and adoring God. Our attention during corporate worship should be focused on God as we pray, read/listen to the scriptures, sing, hear the sermon, enjoy the sacraments, etc.

Does it matter what we wear? No. But it most certainly matters why we wear it. Are you wearing your clothes “as unto the Lord”? Your best is a heart of worship and an attitude of love, service, and honor to the Lord.

Wear what you feel convicted to wear, and then stop thinking about it. God is a jealous God. He wants your focus on Him, not on clothes.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Puritan Soul logo



Men for whom I am thankful: JOHN PIPER

Occasionally I will be introducing various Christian leaders on this blog. Though well known within the Christian community, they may not be known to our little flock at IRBC.

Those of you who are familiar with my other blog (PuritanSoul) know that I usually talk about dead people (pastors & theologians from centuries past). As it happens, I will generally try to highlight living people on this site (though I'm sure a dead guy or two will make the list here).

I strongly encourage the IRBC community to become familiar with these men, as their writings & teachings will take you deep into God's word, as well as challenge & encourage you.

JOHN PIPER - Piper is the Pastor for Teaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church, a church of over 6,000 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has served there for over 25 years. Dr. Piper is highly educated, having received a Doctorate in Theology from the University of Munich. For six years he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem. John is the author of more than 20 books and his preaching and teaching is featured on the daily radio program Desiring God.

Pastor Piper has deeply influenced my thinking and preaching, probably more than any other living human being. His "flagship" book is called Desiring God", which expounds on the key idea that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Piper refers to this as Christian Hedonism.

As many of you know, a Hedonist is someone who lives for pleasure (self-gratification). However, most of us only know about the pagan form of Hedonism. Piper argues that pagan hedonism isn't true hedonism, because it settles for lower levels of pleasure. Piper maintains that true Hedonism is inherently Christian, because only it recognizes that obeying God is the only route to final and lasting happiness.

Piper writes: "As Christian Hedonists we know that everyone longs for happiness. And we will never tell them to deny or repress that desire. It is never a problem to want to be satisfied. The problem is being satisfied too easily. We believe that everyone who longs for satisfaction should no longer seek it from money or power or lust, but should come glut their soul-hunger on the grace of God."

Don't misunderstand Piper here. This is no 'health & wealth' gospel. Piper is telling us that the Bible teaches that God is offering the world true joy & happiness - and that this joy & happiness is found only in the passionate pursuit of the Holy God. In other words, God is to be our joy.

Hebrews 11:6 teaches, "Without faith it is impossible to please [God]. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” You cannot please God if you do not come to him looking for reward. As Christian, this reward is an eternity in the presence of God. There is no greater joy than this!

God wants us to be joyful. Scripture tells us that the aim of Jesus' commandments is that their joy be full (John 15:11). In essence, we are to be Christian hedonists - people who relentless pursue true and ultimate joy - which is Christ.


Piper has written over 20 books, all of which center around the statement "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him". Currently, our Sat. morning Men's Group is reading through his recent book called "Don't Waste your Life", which challenges us to live for the passionate pursuit of God in our daily lives.

John Piper is also a gifted pastor and teacher. All of his writings and sermons over the past 20 years can be found online at www.desiringgod.org.


Quote from John Piper:

“The ministry of preaching is the central labor of my life.
My prayer is that through that ministry and everything
else I do the great glory of our God and Savior Jesus Christ
would be magnified as more and more people come to live out the
obedience of faith more and more deeply.”


Some of his most important books:
The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23
(Baker, 1983; 2nd edition 1993). Book
Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Multnomah, 1986; 2nd edition, 1996, 3rd edition, 2003). Book / Online Edition of Book
• The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Baker, 1990, 2nd edition, 2003).
The Pleasures of God (Multnomah, 1991; Expanded edition, 2000). Book
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Co-editor) (Crossway, 1991).
Online Book
Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions (Baker, 1993, 2nd Edition 2003). Book
• The Purifying Power of Living By Faith In Future Grace (Multnomah, 1995).
A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer (Crossway, 1997).
• A Godward Life: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All of Life (Multnomah, 1997).
God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Crossway, 1998).
• A Godward Life, Book Two: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All of Life (Multnomah, 1999).
• The Legacy of Sovereign Joy (Crossway, 2000).
• The Hidden Smile of God (Crossway, 2001).
Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2001, 2nd edition, 2004).
• The Dangerous Duty of Delight (Multnomah, 2001).
• Brothers, We Are not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002).
• The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce (Crossway, 2002).
Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ's Righteousness? (Crossway, 2002).
Don’t Waste Your Life (Crossway, 2003).
The Passion of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2004).
A God Entranced Vision of All Things (co-editor w/ Justin Taylor, Crossway, 2004).
God is the Gospel: Meditations on God's Love as the Gift of Himself (Crossway, 2005).

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Baptist Blues

It is not easy being a Christian. Even more difficult is being a Baptist Christian. Baptist have a bad rap. Now, I love to meet new people. When I'm around the community and introduce myself, people are generally very nice. When I tell them I am new to the area, they are still nice. When I tell them I am a pastor, they act a bit more reserved (desperately trying to remember if they had just said anything inappropriate, as if I am going to tell God or something), but are still fairly nice.

But then it happens.....they ask "what church?". Now don't get me wrong. I am very proud of my church. We have a lovely community of believers who deeply care about each other and others. They have great big hearts and warm personalities. But it is at this point in the conversation that I become a little uncomfortable, simply because I know what is coming.

....with as much of a smile as I can muster, I tell them "the Baptist church in town". Then, all of a sudden, they are not-so-nice. I can see the change in their eyes and body language. In world-record speed, they have built a wall of protection around themselves, as if I am invading hoard seeking to pillage. I can see their brain working overtime, desperately trying to come up with an excuse to end the conversation and get away. To them, I am a 'hater-of-people' who spends my day telling others they are going to hell.

This I call the "Baptist Blues". It aint easy being a baptist.

Now, to a large degree we (the nation-wide baptist community) deserve this. Let's face it, there are a lot of crazy wacko's out there using the name "Baptist". Also, within the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist circles and other odd Baptist movements there are some mighty strange beliefs. There are 'no-pants-on-women Baptists', and 'only-the-man-can-drive-the-car' Baptists, and 'movie-theaters-are-sinful' Baptists, and 'only-baptists-are-the-true-church' Baptists, and 'if-you-use-the-NIV-you're-going-to-hell' Baptists, and 'see-a-liberal-under-every-bush' Baptists, and 'I'll-separate-from-you-if-you-sneeze-wrong' Baptists, and 'drums-are-from-the-devil' Baptists, and on, and on, and on. And don't forget the nut-cases from Westboro Baptist Church who demonically twist scripture to spout hate rhetoric at the military, homosexuals, and just about everyone else (and yes, homosexuality IS a sin - but so is saying that "God hates f-gs").

Like I said, it aint easy being a Baptist.

The other day when I was in town I had yet another of those conversations just mentioned above. Luckily, I was able to dodge the "what church" question until well into the conversation. Up until this point, I had really connected with this couple. All three of us were laughing, talking about some recent movies, discussing marriage life, looking at some Scripture together, and basically joyfully relating as one human being to another. After about 30 minutes, the dreaded question came. I saw the puzzled look in both their eyes. His forehead scrunched up, and her nose wrinkled as they were trying to process what I had just said. Finally, after a very awkward & long pause, she finally said, "but that's impossible because your so nice".

As if "nice" and "Baptist" were mutually exclusive.

I should note for the record that this couple had never met anyone from my church. In fact, they new nothing about our church specifically. But they did know the word "Baptist", and had met many of them. Sadly, the word "nice" had never fit any Baptist up until this point.

I have no doubt that the Baptists this young couple had previously met where sincere people who genuinely desired to live a life of holiness. But it does seem that they had forgotten the basic duty of a Christian.

Christ clearly tells us that the church has a two-fold mission: Pursue the Great Commandments, and Pursue the Great Commission. The Great Commandment tells us to love God & others. The Great Commission puts some meat on the Great Commandment. It tells us the chief way to love God & others is to tell others about the love of God. But in our pursuit of personal holiness, somehow we have forgotten our mission: Love God & others, and tell the world about this love.

As Baptists we have a lot of barriers to break down. Our denominational sin of pride has caused much damage. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a world to win. To do this, we must get back to the basics.

Today, to many the word "Baptist" is equated with "hate". Perhaps someday soon it can be equated with "love". But first, we need to get back to the basics.


* ps - I found the above clip art on a blog online, but I can't remember where I got it from. If you can help me place it I would appreciate it. I always try to credit the source when I can.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Which Bible Translation?


Several have asked me which Bible translation I recommend. Honestly, I recommend that every Christian have at least two translations. One should be more a more literal translation - and this should be your primary bible. The other should be easier to read. Below are some thoughts on various versions:


KING JAMES VERSION (KJV)

First published in 1611, this is still one of the most widely-used translations because of the beauty and magnificent quality of the language. It has inspired the writings of John Bunyan and John Milton; both of whom quoted and paraphrased from the KJV. It was also based partly on the Bishop’s Bible, which had a strong influence on the works of William Shakespeare. The King James Version is widely used in church services because of how exquisite and powerful it sounds when spoken. However, it does suffer the disadvantage of not being based on the most reliable Greek manuscripts (though the effect is very minimal), and using much older English that is confusing to modern ears. For many who grew up with the King James, the language issue is not a huge problem.**


NEW KING JAMES VERSION (NKJV)

This version is based directly on the King James Version, but with slightly more modern English. It attempts to retain the 'majestic' sound of the KJV, but still suffers the disadvantage of using only the Greek manuscripts used by the KJV (in the last 350 years we have found much older, and better, copies of the Greek New Testament). Since our church has a long-standing history with the KJV, this version was a natural choice for us. During our Sunday worship services, all of the Scripture reading is out of this version. All in all, this is a good Bible translation and is a good choice for bible study and general reading.


ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION (ESV)

This is the translation I am most excited about, and I use this for my personal Bible study and Scripture memory. A recent translation (2001) that follows in the tradition of the Tyndale Translation, the King James Version, the American Standard Version and the Revised Standard Version. The ESV combines word-for-word translation with contemporary English, but in a manner that retains much of the majesty of language found in the KJV. The translation chairman was J.I. Packer, and this version is highly regarded for its scholarship. An excellent choice for Biblical study and personal/public reading.**


NEW AMERICAN STANDARD VERSION (NASB)

This is "word-for-word" translation that has been very popular within evangelical and conservative bible colleges. Because it is committed to trying to retain the word order of the original Greek & Hebrew as much as it can, its English translation become choppy and difficult. Some find this more difficult to read than the KJV. While a good choice for bible study, it is not my choice for general bible reading.


NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (NIV)

The most widely used Twentieth Century translation in English. The NIV uses modern, natural language, and is translated somewhat in a thought-for-thought method, rather than word-for-word, in order to make the text easy for contemporary readers to follow. Not a variation or updating of previous translations, but a fresh look at the original Hebrew and Greek Scripture. Commonly used in worship services and small group studies. While I find myself disagreeing with its translations from time to time, I respect this version. A good choice for general use.**


NEW LIVING TRANSLATION (NLT)

This is a "thought-for-thought" translation, though more extreme than the NIV. Some would prefer this be called a 'paraphrase' rather than a translation. It is very easy to read, and has a smooth, engaging style. I have found this version to be very popular with teens and college students, and those new to the Christian faith. I would not recommend this as a primary bible, but it would be a great choice as an aid to understand your primary bible.


**Some of the comments in these sections taken from: http://www.listenersbible.com/why_audio_bible/translations

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Sermon Quotes - 12/31/06


By popular demand, here are the two main quotations I used in my sermon this past Sunday"

"I want to know one thing. the way to heaven... God Himself has condescended to teach me the way... He has written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri (a man of one book)."

- John Wesley

"Read Demosthenes or Cicero; read Plato, Aristotle, and others of that tribe. They will, I admit, allure you, delight you, move you, enrapture you in wonderful measure. But betake yourself from them to this sacred reading....It is easy to see that the Sacred Scriptures...breathe something divine."

- John Calvin


Creeds & Confessions

Some of you have asked me off-site why I have links to various creeds and confessions (my 'unofficial' site at www.puritansoul.blogspot.com has many more). To explain this, let me first offer some definitions.

A Confession is a statement of what is believed by a given group.

A Creed is a statement of what must be believed by a given group.

I admit that in modern usage, these nuances have faded out and people generally use these terms interchangeably (many times I do as well). According to some, Baptists have always been anti-creeds/confessions. Actually, this is not true. Baptists have written hundreds of confessions, and there have been some pretty famous ones throughout the centuries. Almost all Baptist churches have Statements of Faith, and these statements are usually based on one of a handful of creeds (most usually the New Hamshpire Confession, the Philadelphia Confession, or the 2nd London Confession).

Generally I only use the term Creed to refer to the famous creeds of the Early Church period (the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed). Almost all churches in Christendom see these are important documents that express scripture truth in a succinct manner. They are authoritative, but only insofar as they express Scripture (which is the only authoritative rule of faith and conduct).

But why are confessions important? Because heresy seeks to raise its ugly head in every generation. Confessions help bring unity to the body of Christ, and help teach our people the essential truths of God's word. To deny the need for confessions and creeds is to open the door wide to false teachers.

As Baptists, we have a proud heritage of confession-writing. See my other site for more links to Baptist confessions. Also, that site has many links to other important confessions. Our original confessions were actually based on Reformed Confessions (most notably the Westminster Confession of Faith) and relied upon the Early Church Creeds. Also, in our modern era many important Evangelical documents have been written.

Knowledge of these writings will help you grow deep in the understanding of God's Word. Enjoy.

FYI - I am currently preparing a series of booklets that will be available in the church. They will contain important confessions of faith. These will be available later this year.