Saturday, December 29, 2007

ASK THE PASTOR: Should church leaders be called 'Priest' or 'Pastor'?

ASK THE PASTOR: Should a church leader be called Priest or Pastor?

Neither of these terms are used in the New Testament (NT) of church leaders. While the imagery of a shepherd (i.e pastor) is frequently used in the NT, the title of Pastor is not found [1]. More importantly, the term “priest” is never used and is contrary to biblical teaching.

In Scripture, the designation elder is by far the most common. Second to this, the term Bishop (or, overseer) is used, though most scholars believe these two terms were used interchangeably. When the title of ‘overseer/bishop’ is used today it denotes someone who presides over several churches and pastors, though this usage is not supported in Scripture [2]. In Bible times, a bishop was simply an elder in the church [3].

In Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran churches, the title of priest is used. This term is inappropriate because it creates a special ‘class’ of people, similar to the Levites in the Old Testament who were “set apart” by God to be models of holiness and mediators between God and his people. In the apostolic church preaching and teaching were not confined to a particular class, but every convert could proclaim the gospel to unbelievers, and every Christian who had the gift could pray and teach and exhort in the congregation. The NT knows no spiritual aristocracy or nobility, but calls all believers saints (e.g. those set apart by God for service). Nor does it recognize a special priesthood in distinction from the people, as mediating between God and the laity. It knows only one high-priest, Jesus Christ, and clearly teaches the universal priesthood of believers.

Most common today in Protestant churches is the title pastor, which was popularized by the Puritans (along with minister). They chose the title of minister to demonstrate what they did: they ministered to and helped people with their spiritual needs [4]. The term pastor (or, shepherd) denoted their duty of feeding and overseeing a flock.

What should you call your pastor? In scripture, there is no evidence that church leaders went by formal titles [5]. They were simply called by their personal names. Some believe it shows respect when calling your pastor by his title. However, according to the book of Hebrews [see note 3] respect is shown by listening and submitting to leadership, not by calling them something. The concept of titles comes from the hierarchal social structure of medieval Europe, not scripture. However, if you must succumb to the cultural mandate to call church leaders by a title, you have several options to choose from: elder, overseer, teacher, minister, or pastor.


[1] Some see Ephesians 4:11 as Biblical support for the title ‘Pastor’. I disagree. The context in this passage is on spiritual gifts, not a church office or position. Thus, this passage is only teaching that some have the gift of pasturing/shepherding, regardless if they hold a particular office in the church or not.

[2] In the time period after the New Testament era, generally called the Early Church Period, the term Bishop/Overseer quickly formed into a position above that of elder. This was done in part because of the perceived need to maintain order in the growing church and protect against the multiple heresies that continually infiltrated the church. Despite one’s view on the appropriateness of this development, it is important to understand that this was an expansion of the NT’s use of the term.

[3] The concept of a “church office”, at least as we think of it in terms of professional vocation today, is not supported by Scripture. The KJV insertion of the word ‘office’ in 1 Timothy 3:1 is faulty since in the Greek it simply isn’t there (“If anyone desires the office of bishop). Since the KJV was a product of High-church Anglicanism, this insertion reflects the bias of the time. The two passages cited to support the concept of church office are Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28. However, as hinted to in the Note 1, both of these passages are dealing with spiritual gifts, not positions in the church. This does not deny the concept of positional authority (Hebrews 3:7, 17, and 24 speak of leaders within the church). Rather, it affirms the centrality of Christ. Congregrants are not to obey church leaders because of the position they hold, but rather because they recognize the giftedness bestowed upon them by Christ.

[4] Though the term minister is not a biblical term, it accurately describes the basic function of a church leader. While I personally prefer to use scriptural terms, there certainly is no reason to prohibit the use of this conventional title.

[5] There is much evidence that church leaders described themselves or others by these titles. For example, “Paul, and apostle of Jesus Christ”. While it is probably harmless to refer to myself as Pastor Josh, it is more Biblical to say “Josh, pastor of Indian River Baptist Church”. Conversely, it should be noted that “Rabbi” (e.g “teacher”) was a common title of respect in the synagogue. Again, however, the emphasis here was on giftedness, not position, as a first-century Rabbi generally was not paid by the synagogue, and many times had no connection to any particular synagogue.

Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Ask the Pastor" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Daily Devo - Friday, December 28, 2007

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
Romans 13:11 (ESV)

We punch in at work, several hours later we punch out. We wake in the morning to a pile of laundry and an endless list of household tasks. We end the day with many tasks finished, and many more to tackle tomorrow. We walk to the mailbox and return with a pile of bills, only to return later with a pile of checks to mail out. We shovel the sidewalk currently filled with snow, go grocery shopping, shuttle the kids to piano lessons, attend choir practice, and schedule a much needed doctor's appointment. Our days are filled with hustle, bustle, busyness, chaos--why does Scripture command us to "wake up" when it seems we never sleep?

Because, simply, Scriptures defines everything in the above paragraph as "sleep". God is calling on Christians to recognize that life has a tendency to 'dull' the senses. We become so consumed with living daily life that we become unconscious ('fall asleep to') the spiritual reality around us.

What is that reality? The reality is that Jesus is on the move! He has won a decisive victory against Satan, flesh, and death. He has brought love, joy, peace, and (most importantly) hope. The reality is that Jesus is currently making plans for his grand sequel, for his return to this place to gather all who belong to him.

Saint Benedict wrote, "Let us arise, then, at last, for the Scripture stirs us up, saying, 'Now is the hour for us to rise from sleep'. Let us open our eyes to the deifying light, let us hear with attentive ears the warning which the divine voice cries daily to us...." [1]

Today, this day, awake from the slumber of daily life. Remember, dear Christian, that your master, your friend, your groom, your Savior, your Lord is coming back for you. Will he find you asleep when he comes? Or, will he find you ready? Will he find you actively serving him and living a holy life that is pleasing to him? Awake!

[1] From The Rule of Saint Benedict (Liturgical Press, 2001), p 14.

Book Review: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol 13

Title: London, 1933-1935: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 13
Keith W. Clements
Translator: Isabel Best
: Fortess Press
Year: 2007
Cover: Hardcover
Pages: 550
Binding: Smyth-sewn
Dust jacket: Yes
Reading level: 2.5 (average)
Price USD: $50.00 list price.

REVIEW: This work contains the letters, papers, and sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer during his stay in London between 1933 to 1935, where he had accepted a pastorate over two small German parishes. It is the ninth installment of a projected 16 volume set which has already proven itself to be the definitive Bonhoeffer corpus. In addition to providing valuable primary sources for those studying Bonhoeffer and the period, this volume includes extensive editorial footnotes to further aid the reader. It is a magnificent historical piece, allowing the reader to 'journey' with Bonhoeffer through a major transition in his fascinating life.

Since a work of this sort in unfamiliar to most readers, it is perhaps best to provide a lengthier review offering several examples of what this books has to offer. The first section of the book contains letters written to and from Bonhoeffer during his stay in London. It includes over 200 letters (298 pages in all), making it the largest section of the work. This corpus includes letters to (and in many cases from) such notables as Karl Barth, Mahatma Gandhi, and Reinhold Niebuhr. As one would expect, the section contains many valuable gems, and allows the reader to gain important insight into the thoughts and feelings of Bonhoeffer during this time period.

For example, soon after his arrival to London Bonhoeffer penned a letter to Karl Barth, attempting to explain his rather hasting departure from Germany. He begins the letter by saying:“I am now writing you the letter that I had meant to write six weeks ago and which would then, perhaps, have had entirely different consequences for the course of my personal life” (p 21). He proceeds to explain his acceptance of the London pastorates, his departure from Germany, and his reasons for not acquiring a German pastorate (which would have forced him to give verbal allegiance to the Aryan ideology). He ends the letter by saying, “Would you be so kind as to write me your very honest opinion of all this? I think I would be open even to sharp words and grateful for them” (p 24).

This is exactly what he received from Barth. He replied, “…you were quite right not to seek any wisdom from me before doing it [going off to London]. I would have advised against it, unconditionally and certainly bringing up the heaviest artillery I could muster. And now that you have come to me with this after the fact, I truly cannot do otherwise that call to you, ‘Get back to your post in Berlin straightaway!’” (p 39). Elsewhere in the letter he says, “you need to be here with all guns blazing” (p 39) and shouldn't’t you—with your fine theological skills, and then being the very image of a German—be a little embarrassed…”. Perhaps the sharpest retort in Barth letter comes when he states, “Just be glad I don’t have you here in front of me, because then I’d find an entirely different way of putting it to you forcefully” (p 41). In the end he does close his letter with a loving tone, saying “If you did not matter so much to me, I would not have taken you by the collar in this fashion” (p 41). The work abounds with similar rich, expressive, and insightful correspondence.

Part Two includes various Reports and Lectures, and Part Three offers almost two dozen sermons and homilies on various scripture texts. This last sections gives us a rare glimpse of Bonhoeffer the pastor. Bonhoeffer’s sermons reflect the spiritualizing of the text common in his day, but it also confirms his genuine desire to affect his hearers with the life-changing power of the Word of God. For example, in a sermon on Mark 9:23-24 Bonhoeffer comforts his hearers with these words:“We know the victories that can be won by a person who truly believes in himself or herself, or who believes in any power of idea in this world to the point of total self-surrender to it and living it out. Such a person can accomplish superhuman things, impossible things. How much greater will be the victory of the person who faith is not in some subjective illusion but in the living God!” (pg 405-406)

Bonhoeffer never forgot his concern for the larger German Christian body. In a sermon on I Corinthians 13:1-3, Bonhoeffer refers to the Nazi attempt to reconstruct Christian theology around Third Reich ideology when he states: “Whether or not we want to see it, whether or not we think it is right, the churches are caught up in a struggle for their faith such as we have not seen for hundreds of years. This is a struggle—whether or not we agree—over our confession of Jesus Christ alone as Lord and Redeemer of this world” (p 376).

In this work, we see Bonhoeffer at a period in life when he is torn and unsure of how to proceed. His attempts at promoting fidelity to scriptural truth have been thwarted by the Third Reich, and his supporters in Germany were few and powerless when compared to the opposition. Here we see glimpses of a young and brilliant theologian, as well as a caring pastor, who is deeply troubled by the events around him.

Physical Copy: The book features smyth-sewn binding covered by a blue board with an attractive dust jacket. The paper is off-white and is clean and tight. The dimensions are 6x9 inches

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A 'prophet' speaks

In the confused morass of modern evangelicalism, it seems impossible at times to move forward with the radical, all-or-nothing, cross-centered gospel of Christ. As Christians, we are a people who have forgotten who we are--this is just as true of the fundamentalists as it is of the emergents (or whatever labels you wish to insert for those two). Now, perhaps more important than ever, is the need for clear understanding of what exactly we believe as the People of God.

Read this quote I recently came across. 'When [William] Booth was asked by an American newspaper what he regarded as the chief dangers ahead for the twentieth century, he replied tersely: "Religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell."' [See Note 1]

The War Cry, 5 January 1901, p 7. Cited in Ian Murray's The Old Evangelicalism, p xi.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Puritans on Christmas

For the past few years I have ‘dabbled’ in the Puritans. In the last few months I have been intensely researching this movement (particularly its 17th century British expressions). The more I discover these men and women in their writings, the greater my appreciation of them grows. I have written elsewhere why I warmly recommend contemporary Christians read the Puritan writings. They were men of faith, conviction, intelligence, true piety, and were marked by the fruits of the spirit.

But, they also had feet of clay. They were prone to judgmentalism, legalism, and excessiveness. They tended to imagine sin where no sin existed (such as believing “whittling on Sunday” to be a heinous, blasphemous sin). One such example is their discomfort with the observation of Christmas. In New England, where Puritanism had free-reign for a time, Christmas was banned in several areas. This picture above shows a Public Notice from 1660 of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which banned the observation of the holiday. We should note that most Puritans didn’t mind personal observance of Christmas in one’s own home. However, they severely reacted to any public observance of the day. To them, it was simply a tool of Satan to lead one’s mind away from Christ.

The Puritan’s were not completely wrong in this. Just walk through the mall this Christmas season, or look at the light display at your neighbor’s (or your own) house, and you can easily see a culture that has succumbed to a secular-oriented materialism. That form of Christmas most certainly is a tool of the Deceiver.

True to their characteristic excessiveness, the Puritan’s thought they could control the heart by making a law. The great “Puritan Experiment” in New England failed. They sought to set up a “city on a hill”. Indeed, they thought they were such a city. Now, just 175 years after the pinnacle of their movement, New England is one of the most spiritually-bankrupt geographical areas in the country (yes, I was a New Englander for a period of time). The Puritans controlled the culture, the courts, the churches, and the laws—but they found they couldn’t control the human heart.

The Puritan’s were certainly wrong is refusing to see any redeemable qualities in Christmas. But, I wonder how wrong contemporary Christians are for refusing to really take seriously the dangers of Christmas. Yes, we give these dangers lip service, yet every year we give our children dozens of presents (even to the point of racking up credit card debt). We spend weeks prior gathering “wish lists” and let our families engage in endless discussions of “what we want for Christmas”. Of course, we spend a few moments reading the Nativity Story from the Gospel of Luke, but seconds after ribbons and wrapping paper are flying around the room. The birth of Jesus becomes the warm-up act to the main show.

This Christmas we made a big change. First and foremost, we gave the children far fewer presents. The presents were non-expensive gifts. Instead, we gave a few trinkets to each child. Second, we decided we would open our gifts on Christmas-eve morning. This way, we could dedicate all of Christmas morning for worship, fellowship, and celebration. Christmas is Christ’s mas, and we will dedicate the day totally to Him.

My wife I and will not live like the Puritans, but we will learn from them.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Book Sale

Desiring God ministries is offering copies of The Pleasure of God for only $4.99. For a limited time only, so order soon.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Winter Reading List

Sanctify this Winter season by spending some quality time in books that will lift your soul, challenge your heart, and shape your mind. Start up the fire place, make a hot cup of tea, put the kids to bed, and pull out one of these gems. In addition to the books below, I recommend you consider taking the Puritan Challenge.

1. Jeremy Bridges - Respectable Sins
* I just brought this beauty home from the bookstore. Highly readable (2.0 Reading Level). It challenges us to take a hard look at the sins in our heart that we so often refuse to challenge. Perhaps one of the most powerful contemporary books I've read in months.

2. David Dickson - Truth's Victory Over Error
* My wife promised this one to me for Christmas, but since Banner of Truth is closed until the beginning of January, it will be a belated Christmas present. David Dickson was an highly esteemed Puritan, pastor, and Biblical scholar. If I recall, this book was essentially a commentary (collection of sermons) on the Westminster Confession.

3. John Piper - Seeing and Savoring Jesus
* This is the book I gave to every person in my congregation this Christmas. Piper can be difficult to read, and I do wish they had tried to make this more accessible to a general audience. For those wishing to go through the effort, this book will aid one in "seeing and savoring" our precious Lord.

4. Timothy Rogers - Trouble of the Mind and the Disease of Melancholy
* The Puritans understood depression ("melancholy"). Unlike some conservative Christians today, they didn't take the approach of "just love God and get over it" when dealing with those undergoing depression. They understood this was a disease which befell both Christian and non-Christian alike. Of all the Puritan writings on the subject, none are more tender (as well as thorough) than Timothy' Rogers Trouble of the Mind. If you suffer from depression, or wish to understand others who are depressed, this book is a valuable guide.

5. Richard Sibbes - The Bruised Reed
* Sibbes is another author who wrote about depression. Though not an thorough as Rogers, Sibbes is much more lovely, sweet, and pastoral. Start here, and then move to Rogers.

6. John Flavel - The Mystery of Providence
* I am fairly new to Flavel, but this comes highly recommended from many friends. Read it, and share your thoughts of the book on this blog.

7. Thomas Watson - The Godly Man's Picture
* What does a Christian "look like"? Watson, on of the most beloved Puritan figures, takes a deep look into the character and attributes of one who loves God. Along with this book I would also recommend Francis Schaeffer's The Mark of Christian.

8. N. T. Wright - Simply Christian
* N.T. Wright is perhaps the foremost British theologian alive. Bishop and scholar within the Anglican church. While controversial in some of his teachings, his influence cannot be denied. Much in the vein of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, N.T. Wright seeks to encapsulate the message of Christianity for the non-Christian contemporary world.

9. Brother Lawrence - The Practice of the Presence of God
* A universally regarded spiritual classic, The Practice of the Presence of God has been a source of spiritual strength to me for several years. I first read this in my freshman year of seminary (recommended from an older classmate), and it has been a beloved companion ever since. Read it, and see how a common monk found joy in inviting God's presence into every aspect of his daily life.

10. Waltke - An Old Testament Theology
* Nothing in more important than God's word. While reading and understanding human authors is good, insofar as it helps us better understand the divine word, we must remember that our primary reading should be in scripture. I warmly recommend Waltke's large volume on the Old Testament. Wade through this great work and let the Old Testament come alive in your hear.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Daily Devos - Friday, December 21, 2007

"...And out of them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of them that make merry..."
(Jeremiah 30:19 KJV)

Though Christmas has been celebrated since the 4th century AD, the first known usage of any Christmastime greeting, "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" was in an informal letter written by an English admiral in 1699. Later, Charles Dickens would make the phrase universally popular with his 1843 A Christmas Carol.

"Merry" is a word used only one month out of the year. Throughout the other 11 months we year Happy Birthday, Happy New Year', or 'Happy Valentines Day'. In almost every month we try to find something to be happy about, but only in December do we seek to be 'merry'.

The present day definitions of the word "merry" means gay, cheerful or festive. However, when the saying Merry Christmas first came about, the widely accepted meaning of the word was peaceful or blessed. Thus, wishing someone a Merry Christmas was wishing him or her a blessed or peaceful Mass of Christ. The word "merry" was chosen as an adjective for Christmas for a very important reason. To understand that reason, we must first notice the difference between being "happy" and being "merry".

Happiness is something we can possess despite our present conditions. In the midst of struggles, trials, and difficulties, we have the ability (as believers in Christ) to be happy. Find me a poor man who loves the Lord and I will show you a happy man (despite his poverty). Throughout the centuries persecuted believers have happily been led away to their deaths (just pick up a copy of Foxes' Book of Martyrs and see for yourself). Our happiness does not depend upon the physical or social conditions around us.

However, to be merry, we must have a certain degree of abundance. Merriment implies a great feast, festive dancing, music, time off from work, presence of our friends, and relatively care-free living (at least for the moment). When we attend a party, we can leave our troubles behind us and simply enjoy. No worries, no struggles...just festivities!

Merry Christmas is a powerful term. It reminds us that not only does God desire our happiness, He wants us to experience merriment. In this earthly life, we can always be happy. But once in a while, and only rarely, do we experience times of merriment. Yet, we have a great promise. In the passage above Jeremiah envisions a time when there would be a permanent time of merriment.

Think about that! There is coming a day (in Heaven) where we will feast, dance, and enjoy festivities for eternity. How fitting that we use that special word in the Christmas season. We celebrate merriment once a year in commemoration of Christ, who offers us eternal merriment.

Merry Christmas!

ASK THE PASTOR: Did Mary remain a virgin?

Did Mary (in the Bible) remain a virgin after giving birth to Jesus?

This question came to me back in November, but being so close to the Christmas season I thought it more timely to answer it in December. Many think this is a silly question, though in fact it is very important for two reasons. (1) Many individuals get quickly offended at the idea of Mary having sexual relations with Joseph, her husband; and (2) there is an entire philosophy of sexuality "behind the scenes" of this discussion of which most people are not aware.

Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and many Lutheran believers maintain what is called the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. In this view, Mary is said to have never actually married Joseph (the Bible speak of her only being betrothed, or engaged). They believe that after the birth of Jesus, Mary did not engage in sexual relations with Joseph and remained a virgin for the rest of her life.

A quick look at the Biblical evidence does not support this verse. Matthew 1:15 says, "
But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." Here scripture maintains that her virginity was only temporary, and clearly indicates a future time when she would have marital relations with Joseph. John 7:5 and Matthew 13:55 also speak of (and Matthew even names) Jesus' brothers. Thus, after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary finalized their marriage, engaged in sexual relations, and produced other children.

However, for the past 1,800 years many in the church have denied this biblical data. They maintain that "brothers" refers to others Christians (such as Paul uses the word "brothers" to denote fellow believers). However, in the context of the Gospels such a usage is unnatural and, frankly, impossible.

What is driving this "need" to maintain the virginity of Mary? To be honest, it is a very low view of sexuality. In the Early Church period, Tertullian claimed the "marriage and adultery ...are not intrinsically different, but only in the degree of their illegitimacy". In this period, the church fathers quickly rejected sexuality as base and immoral, and therefore glorified virginity and celibacy. By the fifth century, clerics were forbidden from marriage.

Augustine would commend married couples who abstained from sex. Jerome said that the only good of marriage was that it produced (through childbirth) virgins. Chrysostom said that Adam and Eve could not have had sexual relations before the Fall. Both Origen and Gregory of Nyssa agreed, and theorized how reproduction would have taken place if man never fell into sin. Origen believed the human race would have been propagated by some mysterious angelic manner, and Gregory suggested we would have reproduced by some manner of vegetation! The church would continually add days to the church calendar which prohibited married couples from engaging in sexual activity until the point where over half the year was prohibited. Those that reluctantly allowed marital relations strongly taught that it should be for the purpose of procreation only. Gregory the Great taught that desire for one's spouse sinfully befouls the sex act.

Of course, when one holds such a low opinion of sexuality, it will not do to have Mary, the mother of Jesus, engaging in such behavior. Their logic goes something like this:

A. Sex is shameful, morally base, and possibly even sinful.
B. Mary was a model of Christian virtue.
C. Therefore, Mary couldn't have engaged in sex.

Of course, no one disagrees with statement B. Statement C cannot be directly discredited because it is produced by statements A and B. Therefore, we must look at Statement A. Is sex shameful, morally base, and perhaps sinful?

Absolutely not! Sex was instituted by God from the very beginning. God commanded man to leave his father and mother and "cleave" (a sexual term) to his bride. Song of Solomon tells the story of two lovers who find deep pleasure in marital relations. Paul the apostle commands married couples to never forbid physical relations to one another. Love and holy sexuality abound throughout Scripture. Is sex a source of evil and temptation? Certainly, but the problem is not with sex, the problem is with sin. Sex is not inherently evil, though it is certainly corrupted by sin (as is everything).

Mary finished her engagement period to Joseph and eventually became his wife. They enjoyed each other, and bore the fruit of that pleasure (other children). Instead of viewing this as something that detracts from Mary's virtue, we should see it as something that adds to it.

Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Ask the Pastor" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Daily Devos - Thursday, December 20, 2007

"...because there was no room for them in the inn."
Luke 2:7

If we were to give an award for the worst translation in the Bible, Luke 2:7 would certainly be a contender. One finds the word "inn" in virtually every contemporary translation, despite the fact that the Greek word simply doesn't mean "inn", at least in the sense that we think of it. In Jesus' time, there were no "inns" (hotels) within the towns and cities of Palestine. But more importantly, Luke uses this word elsewhere in his gospel (Luke 22:11), where it is translated as "upper room".

The Greek word kataluma most likely referred to the guest chamber within a home. The picture that Luke is presenting to us isn't that of a cruel hotel manager refusing to house a pregnant woman. Instead, he is telling us something much more ugly, much more dark is happening. To understand this, we have to remember the story.

Mary is pregnant. She is not married. Rumors are flying around about sexual immorality. Worse yet, Joseph is seen as a morally upstanding guy. The family and townspeople suspect Mary has had an affair with another man. Then, of course, comes the unbelievable story that God miraculously made her pregnant. No matter how you cut it, this isn't the relative you want staying in your house.

But we are not done. The government is forcing all families to go back to their childhood homes to register for tax purposes. Joseph, being legally betrothed to Mary, must take her with him. Since there are no hotels in the towns, Joseph will stay with one of his extended relatives. To refuse a guest, let alone a blood relative, would be unthinkable.

But...he had HER with him. What should a respectable Jewish household do? Certainly they cannot let HER stay in the guest chamber ("upper room"). In those days, houses were split into two (sometimes three) levels. The "upper room" level was the highest level. The middle level (in more modest homes, this would be the top level) was were the family "lived" (ate, sat, conversed, etc). The lower level was really more of a depression or drop in the floor. It shared the same ceiling and walls with the middle level. This lower level is where the animals were stored at night. No Israelite family could leave their animals outside at night. If thieves or predators didn't get them, the cold weather would. Thus, when you offered to let someone stay in the upper room, you were showing them kindness by getting them as far away from the stink of animals as you could. It was considered the "polite" thing to do.

But not for HER. They refused to let her sleep in the upper room. Yes, they had a good excuse (there were a lot of relatives in town, after all). But why not let the pregnant woman have the best? It was because, in their eyes, she was the worst. They wanted her to sleep in the filth because that's how they saw her.

Mary, mother of more humiliation. Yet we see no hint of bitterness. Scripture records no tears. Only faith. She endured this burden, because she was carrying true freedom in her womb. When you know what's inside of you, external pressures and difficulties lose their power over you.

Mary had the savior of the world inside her womb. Who do you have inside your heart?

BOOK REIVEW: "A Body of Divinity" (Ussher)

Title: A Body of Divinity: Being the Sum and Substance of the Christian Religion.
Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656)
Publisher: Solid Ground Christian Books
Year: 2007
Cover: Hardcover
Pages: 467
Binding: Smyth-sewn
Dust jacket: Yes
Reading level: 2.5 (average)
ISBN-10: 1599251086
Price USD: $39.95 from Solid Ground ($50.00 list price)

Review: 2007 was a wonderful year for classic reprints (and 2008 looks even more impressive). Yet in the frantic hustle of online reviewers, bloggers, and book watchdogs, this amazing title seems to have missed the recognition it deserves.

Archbishop James Ussher was an instrumental figure among the Irish Puritans. He was greatly admired among his fellow countrymen, as well as across the channel in England. He is best known today for his Annuals of the World, which was a important interpretation of history through a Biblical framework. Ussher was also the first person to formulate the theory that the earth is 6,000 years old (which he arrived at from a study of the genealogy lists of the Old Testament). While his science may have been a bit lacking, he made up for it by possessing profound theological and biblical insight.
Dr. Francis Nigel Lee, Professor-Emeritus of the Queensland Presbyterian Theological College, states that "Dr. Ussher soaked himself in the Holy Scriptures without ceasing. He also read the Early Church Fathers - systematically, every day, for eighteen years."

Reformed believers have unknowingly stood on the theological shoulders of Ussher. During the formulation of the Westminster documents at the Westminster Assembly, copies of Ussher's Body of Divinty were present and regularly consulted.
Probably no single individual was more influential on the content and form of the documents than Dr. Ussher.

There is some evidence that Ussher never intended this work for publication. He viewed it as a private work to aid his own thought-formulations, and readily admitted having borrowed many ideas, expressions, and thoughts from others in its construction. As such, the book is a virtual mine of propositional gems. I have been using the book for my evening devotional reading over the past month. The work is in a question and answer format, with the answers generally being a sentence or two, or perhaps a brief paragraph in length. While incredibly profound, the work is marked by clarity of thought. You will not find useless jargon in Ussher's Body of Divinity. It is practical, accessible, and user-friendly.

For example, Ussher asks the question What is the Love of God". His answer states, "It is an Essential Property in God, whereby he loveth himself above all, and others for himself". Ussher covers the diverse field of theology in a similar fashion. His dual aim seems to be (1) to solidly ground the reader in true Biblical knowledge, and (2) to prick the heart with the beauty of this knowledge.

Regarding this specific edition: The edition has been completely retype set, and now includes a helpful introduction. There are, however, some minor flaws. In comparing this edition to a 17th century (non-bound) facsimile edition I have in my possession, I noticed the editors inserted parenthetical comments. While this in and of itself is not problematic, it quickly becomes an issue for two reasons. First, Ussher himself inserted parenthetical comments, and (2) the editors do not distinguish between the two. Thus, the reader cannot know which comments are Usshers, and which belong to the editor. For example, on page one (5th question down), the editors insert the word (Humanism) in parenthesis after the word Heathenism and the words (Roman Catholicism) after the term Papism. Four questions down (still on page 1), there are several parenthetical comments, though these appear in the 17th edition I consulted. For a historical reprint, greater care should have been taken to distinguish the editors comments from the authors. However, I am 1/3 of the way through the book and am glad to see the editors only rarely insert comments.

The second quibble is in regards to a footnote found on page 16. Ussher is discussing the subjects of Mary's perpetual virginity and the Baptism of Infants. The editors include the following footnote:

On both of these points we would strongly yet respectfully disagree with Ussher. We do not believe the Scriptures allow for the opinion of the perpetual virginity of Mary (Mathew 1:25; 13:55; John 7:5). Nor do we agree that Infant Baptism is sufficiently warranted by reasons of Scripture, but rather such a practice is inconsistent with it.

While I agree with the editors on both points, such a footnote is unbecoming in a historical reprint. Thankfully, that is the only footnote I could find in the entire work.

All in all, this is an excellent work that deserves a much wider audience in contemporary Christianity. With the resurgence of Puritan studies, now is the time to begin seriously studying those that shaped the minds of the Puritans themselves.

Physical construction of this edition: This book is beautifully bound in a green hardcover board with an attractive dust jacket. The binding is superb (smyth-sewn), and the text is white, clean, and tight. It was constructed to last a few lifetimes, and with normal care will certainly do so.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pastor's Gone Wild: Case 011 - The Case of the Hog Tied Parishioner

A new series highlighting the odd, bizarre, funny, or perhaps even heretical behavior of those who claim the title "pastor".

Case #011 - The Case of the hog-tied Parishioner

Pastor Flowers is a true Texan. In Texas, everything is bigger. Apparently this includes discipline techniques. It seems Pastor Flowers has a heart for at-risk teens, including those with drug, alcohol, and other life controlling issues. Many have criminal records, and it is not uncommon for a court system to have mandated their stay at the Faith Outreach Center. Their program is quite intensive, and is run similar to a military "boot camp". This includes rising early in the morning, daily exercise, long jogs & hikes, and a host of other routines. The problem, of course, is that these silly teenage boys and girls don't like doing what their told.

No worries, because this big Texan has a big solution. When a 15 year old girl refused to participate in a running exercise, Pastor Flowers and a female counselor pinned the girl to the ground, tied a rope around her wrists, and attached the other end to the bumper of a van. Although the girl was Texan, she wasn't able to match the power of a V8 engine. However, by all accounts she put up a good fight. Still refusing to run with the other teens, the girl was dragged several times on her stomach.

The camp's website says it "strives to prepare young men and women to positively impact their world with the principles of Christ as their foundation" and is "designed to build character and instill discipline, integrity, unity, and morality back into their lives."

...and if that doesn't work, they can always drag kids behind moving vehicles for kicks. Popcorn, anyone?

Do you have a "Pastors Gone Wild" tale? Submit your stories to Please read the Submission Rules page before submitting a story. Your name, and a link to your site, will be included if the web owner uses your submission.

Daily Devos - Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Let not your hearts be troubled..."
John 14:1a (NKJV)

Only hours before his arrest, betrayal, torture, and execution, Jesus commands his disciples not to worry. They have sensed the impending doom, and Jesus has bluntly told them that Peter, the 'top-dog' of the disciples, would deny he ever knew Jesus. Jesus was not speaking to men who were calm and relaxed and merely urging them to never become troubled. He was talking to men who were depressed, confused, and deeply troubled already.

The word troubled is a very interesting word. In Greek, this same verb is used of Jesus' trouble of soul (11:35; 12:27; 13:21). It is also the word used for the troubling of the waters (NKJV translates this as stirred) in John 5:7.

When I think of this word, I think of an old fashion washing machine. My grandmother had one of these. I loved it because you could open the lid and the machine still ran (unlike modern machines). I would throw my toys into the machine and watch as the machine jolted and sloshed the water around. I remember placing little boats filled with G.I. Joes (toy soldiers) pretending they were in the middle of a great storm.

Jesus is talking to his friends and intimate followers, all of whom were experiencing a tremendous storm. He also knew that a greater storm was coming. In this middle of this story, he was asking his disciples to trust him (John 14:1b).

Do you trust Jesus in the midst of your difficulties? Jesus promises that you can have a troubled-free life. Notice, I didn't say trouble-free, I said troubled-free. Jesus never promises that troubles will not come our way. Instead, He freed us from having to be troubled by these troubles.

You believe in God...start believing in Jesus.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pastor jumps from the [sinking] Emergent ship

Read this powerful post from a pastor who is sick of the emerging heresy of the movement. This man is no outsider. He is not some lunatic tradionalist who rejects a priori the emergent movement. This is an "insider" who is sick of the same age-old heresies, now repackaged in an emergent label.

ASK THE PASTOR: Does God care what I wear to church?

Does God care what I wear to church?
Although many churches have battled over the issue of clothing standards, the Bible never sets standards for what one wears to worship gatherings. Even in the Old Testament times, there were never any standards for what one wore to the Temple. Although the Old Testament contains over 600 laws, none were directed to what one wore on Sabbath. Even the principle that one should “wear one’s best” on Sunday is found nowhere in the Bible (though it may be a wonderful personal conviction).

Churches should be places that refuse to make a law where the Bible is silent. Demanding individuals to adhere to certain clothing standards is legalism. This legalism is seen even in many emergent and seeker-sensitive churches. In many such congregations people are looked down upon for wearing suits & ties. Such persons are considered hypocritical and 'stuffy'. This is just legalism with a "hipper, cooler" set of laws. The traditional church is no stranger to judgmentalism on this issue, either.

Of course, we want fellow Christians to dress modestly (which is clearly taught in the Bible, cf 1 Tim 2:9-10), and this does not mean church leaders cannot ask those participating in the service (choir, scripture readers, etc) to abide by certain standards for uniformity’s sake. But in regards to style of clothing of those who attend, we must understand that God looks only at the heart and that no individual will ever be held accountable to some man-made clothing standard.

However, it would be a huge mistake to think what we wear is unimportant. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says that everything we must do should bring glory to God. The key word there is 'everything', which includes our clothes. When getting dressed on Sunday, you should choose clothing that helps prepare your heart for worship. For some, this may be a jacket & tie (or a nice dress), for others this may be shorts or jeans. Our first and foremost consideration in clothing styles is the pleasure we bring to God.

In addition to our consideration of God, we must also consider others. In the very next verse (v. 32) Paul tells stronger believers not to cause anyone to stumble. We are to sacrifice our freedoms for the sake of those weaker in the faith. This does not mean that we submit to every personal preference of every single person at church (which would be impossible). However, it does imply that we must have a genuine love and concern for others and, when possible and within reason, we dress in a manner that does not cause needless offense.

Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Ask the Pastor" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Daily Devos - Monday, December 17, 2007

"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son..."
Romans 8:29a (ESV)

Predestination is difficult for many Christians to embrace. Many view it as an ugly, horrid idea...something that is opposed to the very idea of a loving God. All genuine believers want a close, affectionate relationship with the Father, but a relationship marked by warmth and love seems impossible if we think of God as having predestined some to heaven, and many to hell. Therefore, many Christians rely on mental gymnastics in a desperate attempt to redefine the word "predestination". Some say it simply means God foreknew what people would choose, but Romans 8:29 (which uses both words), doesn't allow that option. Predestination simple means "pre-determined". However, if Scripture clearly teaches that God predetermined who would be saved (and who would not), doesn't this damage the idea that God is fundamentally motivated by love?

The indefatigable J. Gresham Machen wrote on this very topic. Believing that Scripture clearly teaches that God predetermines who will be saved and who will not be saved, Machen couldn't help but notice how the Bible's emphasis is overwhelmingly on the former. He writes:

"Why then does it [Scripture] lay the chief stress upon the predestination of the saved to salvation? It does so because it regards the salvation of the saved and not the eternal loss of the unsaved as the really surprising thing. We are prone to look at the matter in exactly the opposite way. The thing that we regard as surprising is that any members of the human race, any of those excellent creatures known as men, who are supposed to be doing the best they can and be guilty, at the most, of merely triffling and thoroughly forgivable faults, should ever fall under the divine displeasure. But the thing that the Bible regards as surprising is that any of those fallen creatures known as men, all of whom without exception deserve God's wrath and curse, should be received into eternal life. We regard it as surprising that any are lost: the Bible regards it as surprising that any are saved. Naturally, it is the surprising or unexpected thing upon which the stress is laid."
- J. Gresham Machen, A Christian View of Man (Banner, 1999, p54)


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Parchment & Pen offers hilarious look at the Emerging Church

Funny, and sad, because its so true.

Signs that you might be taking this emerging this too far.

Daily Devos - Sunday, December 16, 2007

"In my Father's house are many rooms"
John 14:2 (ESV)

The setting of this verse immediately follows Jesus' prophetic pronouncement of Peter's upcoming denial. It also preceded that agonizing day when Jesus would be offer up, tortured, and crucified. He urges his disciples to be calm and untroubled by what is coming, and he does so by reminding them where they are ultimately going.

The King James Version, though a beautiful and exquisite translation, misleads us with its rendering of this verse. The KJV says, "In my Father's house are many mansions". The KJV, following the Tyndale translation (which was translated from Latin), based the word off the Latin Vulgate. The Latin word mansio meant "lodging places". In Latin, mansio did not refer to an opulent dwelling, but simple a place to sleep. In antiquated English the word appeared as the manse, which referred to the minister's house (this term is still used by some denominations).

However, in English the word soon began to carry connotations of wealth and prosperity. This concept became entrenched in hymns and spiritual songs (e.g. "I've got a mansion, just over the hill top"). By doing so, we've missed Jesus point entirely. We have shifted the focus of heaven to material prosperity, instead of focusing on our presence with God.

In other words, Jesus is promising us some far more beautiful, far more rich, far opulent than our own personal mansion.

In short, he is promising that we will be ushered into the presence of the Father himself.

If you're looking for a mansion, you can have it. I prefer a simple room in the house of the one I treasure above all, the Father.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

ASK THE PASTOR - Why do you so often recommend reading the Puritans?

Why do you so often recommend reading the Puritans?

Actually, I recommend many different types of books. In my church's monthly newsletter, I generally recommend and briefly review at least three books each issue--and only rarely will one of these be a Puritan author.

However, I do heartily (and often) recommend that everyday, average Christians read Puritan authors. A few years ago, just as I was finishing my first Seminary degree, I "stumbled" across a Puritan author. For my M.Div, I attended Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and during my time there I ran the school's book store (the pay was horrible, but I got to study while I worked and buy all the books I wanted at the school's cost). Though we rarely ordered from them, we regularly received a copy of The Banner of Truth Trust' book catalogue. On a whim, I ordered a copy of The Refo
rmed Pastor by Richard Baxter (thinking it was a book about being theological Reformed). I thought it might interest some of the more Reformed students in our institution.

When it arrived, however, instead of putting it on the self I decided to skim through it first. This little book "caught" me. By the time I was done reading it was so worn, marked up, underlined, and coffee-stained that I had no choice but to buy it.

From Baxter I moved to Jonathan Edwards, back through Bunyan, Owen, Flavel, Sibbes, Rogers, Bolton, Bridge, Watson, Brooks, Burroughs (and the list goes on). In these Puritan authors I saw a faith unlike my own. They saw something in Christ that I didn't see, and I instantly realized they had possessed a depth of relationship and love for their Savior to which I only gave lip-service.

In today's Christian landscape, we are plagued with superficial faith, skin-deep commitment, shallow knowledge of Scripture, and rather cursory engagement with the mission Christ left for His people. While the Puritans had glaring mistakes of their own (not to mention excesses in some of the rigidity), certainly our modern culture is guilty of excess in how we champion the notion of Christian liberty.

I recommend serious, continued, and daily reading of the Puritan authors for the following reasons:

1. They understood the reality of sin in their personal lives. "Sin" is something that contemporary Evangelical churches do not discuss. The Fundamentalist churches see sin as something that "others" do (like liberals & homosexuals). The Emergent churches won't touch it, and the seeker movement have long moved past this troublesome doctrine. It is either denied outright, ignored, or quickly moved past in order to get on to 'nicer' discussions. Pastors (of all varieties) would rather speak on (and people would rather hear) sermons on our value, worth, and importance. The Puritans agreed, but understood that we can only truly understand our value when we understood the depth & ugliness of our sin, and what our Savior needed to do to remove it from us.

The Puritans also refused to move "past" their sin. The more they grew in Christ, the more real their sin (even their former sin) became to them. Newton, for example, never got over his involvement in the slave trade. On his death bed, he reportedly said that he can only remember that he is a great sinner, and that Christ is a great savior. Luther (whose theology, along with Calvin, eventually produced Puritanism) is reported to have mutter "we are beggars, this is true" as his dying words. By focusing on their sin, they were able to see the true beauty of the Cross.

2. They understood, and were gentle towards, the human condition. The Puritans were masterful doctors of the soul. They were the 17th century version of a Professional Counselor. They understood the intricacies of the human soul, and took great care to study conditions such as depression. They systematically refused to 'write-off' depressed persons as those who just needed to shape up. Indeed, many of these Puritans suffered with depression themselves. During this period, several masterful works were produced--either analyzing the phenomenon or offering sound, practical wisdom in counseling individuals struggling with this depression.

3. They were thoroughly soaked in God's Word. These men lived and breathed scripture. Many of them would study Scripture for hours (8, 10, and even as much as 18 hours) per day. Their works are choke full of Scripture quotations, and subtle allusions to scripture abound in their writings. They truly sought to think God's thoughts after Him, and understood this was only possible with an intimate knowledge of the Bible. They believed in the divine power of Scripture to change lives, shape minds, and convert souls.

4. They were profoundly God-centered. The Puritans understood that life was ultimately about the glory of God. Their happiness, their activities, their joy, their purpose, their goals were all to be found (and fulfilled) in the giving of glory to the great King of Kings. John Owen's classic book (Communion with God) is about a believer's communion (relationship) with God as father, Jesus as Savior, and the Spirit as Comforter. Their lives revolved around the Triune God, and they saw all of life as being radically and completely centered on Him, and Him

5. They had the right priorities in their daily lives. The Puritans understood that the activities of our daily life were designed by God to bring glory and honor to Him. One Puritan author said "God's smile is my greatest reward". Thus, they sought to incorporate every aspect of life into their faith. They recognized that many Christians lived as "practical atheists". That is, individuals who believed in Christ, but lived the majority of their daily lives as if no God existed. While the Puritans did vigorously write against this mode of "Christian" (or rather, "Christ-less") living, they were fare more concerned with living as "full-fledged theists" themselves.

6. They saw the beauty and worth of Christ. Thomas Adams wrote: "Christ is the sum of the whole Bible, prophesied, typified, prefigured, exhibited, demonstrated, to be found in every leaf, almost in every line, the Scriptures being but as it were the swaddling bands of the child Jesus." In other words, they were radically centered on and devoted to Jesus. Thomas Goodwin wrote, "If I were to go to heaven, find that Christ was not there, I would leave immediately, for heaven would be a hell to me without Christ." The eminent Presbyterian James Durham also wrote, "If Christ is altogether lovely than all else is altogether loathsome." Jesus was something excellent to be savored, something beautify upon which to gaze, something prized to be possessed, and someone wonderful with whom to be friends.

7. They saw the excellency of God even in the midst of trials. They were individuals who suffered great persecution. Most (in the mid-17th century era) lost their pastorates as the government shut them out of their pulpits. The attempt was (1) to stop their ideas, and (2) to starve them to silence. Others were imprisoned, banished, tortured, disfigured, and killed. Yet instead of crying foul, and calling down curses upon the "establishment", these men saw the guiding hand of God. They understood that what 'men had intended for evil, God had intended for good'. Thomas Watson said, "God’s rod is a pencil to draw Christ’s image more lively on us,"while John Flavel wrote that if Christian goes "...two or three years without an affliction, and he is almost good for nothing." In another work, Flavel said "Grace tried [i.e. experiencing times of great difficulty] is better than grace, and more than grace. It is glory in its infancy." As we experience difficulty and trials in our contemporary lives, may we come to think as these men and see the graceful, loving hand of God in the midst of our most difficult moments.

8. They were some of the best thinkers of the age. Yes, the Puritans included all sorts. Men like John Bunyan, and uneducated tinker from the lower class, came to be hailed as one of the great writers and preachers of the era. However, Bunyan was an exception. For the most part, the Puritans were "divines", and antiquated term indicating that they were men who studied Divinity in the university. They fluently spoke Latin, were almost equally good in Greek and Hebrew, and were among the best educated men of the era. Many held top posts in Oxford (and other academic institutions) before being removed. By reading the Puritans, you are reading the best minds of that era.

Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Ask the Pastor" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Puritan Paperback Special

To help you get started on the Puritan Challenge, here is a link to the Banner of Truth site. They are offering a special on Puritan paperbacks---any 5 for $34. This is a great way to buy almost half a year's worth of books for the Puritan Challenge.

The Puritan Challenge

Timmy Brister, over at Provocations and Paintings, is urging his readers to take the Puritan Challenge in 2008. It's simple: (1) Buy a copy of the Valley of Vision and incorporate it into your daily devotions. (2) Commit to reading at least one Puritan Paperbacks (published by Banner of Truth) per month. For a list of Puritan Paperback books, see Trophies of His Grace, the blog of the internet-savvy Banner of Truth manager, Steve Burlew.

I'm already in (since January of last year). Take the challenge...start the what God will do.


Here is Timmy's recommended monthly schedule. If anyone from my church wants to be part of this, and can't afford the books, please talk to me. I can loan them to you (very, very painful....did I actually say "loan"? Nuts) or we can come up with a plan to get them into your hands. This is the list I'm following, but if your planning on doing this email or talk to me--I may suggest a couple of substitutions for you.

January: The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes (128 pp)
February: The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel (221 pp)
March: The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson (252 pp)
April: Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks (253 pp)
May: Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ by John Bunyan (225 pp)
June: The Mortification of Sin by John Owen (130 pp)
July: A Lifting Up for the Downcast by William Bridge (287 pp)
August: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs (228 pp)
September: The True Bounds of Christian Freedom by Samuel Bolton (224 pp)
October: The Christian’s Great Interest by William Guthrie (207 pp)
November: The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter (256 pp)
December: A Sure Guide to Heaven by Joseph Alleine (148 pp)

Recommended Winter Reading

I am putting together a list of recommended books to cozy up with this winter. There is nothing better than a Northern home, covered with blanket of snow, a roaring fire, and a good book (sorry my Southern friends, your missing out). I have a list already in mind, but am looking for suggestions. I will be posting the list some time mid-next week.

Any particular Christian authors/books you recommend?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Evangelicals and Muslims Together: A Common Word Between Us and You

I have been occasionally giving updates and comments on the interfaith dialogue movement known as Evangelicals and Catholics together. It appears something similar is brewing between the Muslim and Evangelical world.

Back in November, 138 Muslim scholars, leaders, and intellectuals produced a letter to the Christian community titled, A Common Word Between Us and You. Shortly after, many in the Evangelical community responded with a letter titled Loving God and Neighbor Together: A Christian Response to 'A Common Word Between Us and You'. The second letter was signed by over 300 Christian pastors, leaders, and scholars.

Some of the more prominent individuals and institutions that signed the second letter include:

Rick Warren (Southern Baptist, Sr. pastor Saddleback)
Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Association)
Leith Anderson (head of NAE and Wooddale Church)
Northwest University (Washington, AOG)
Fuller Seminary
Biola University
Northwest University
David Yonggi Cho (Korea)
Bethel College
Bethel University
Eastern Mennonite Mission
Wheaton College
Emergent Village
Assemblies of God
World Vision
Taylor University
ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America)
Brian McLaren
Christianity Today
The Christian Century
Tyndale Seminary
Vineyard USA
Robert Schuller (Crystal Cathedral)
Regent College (BC)
The Navigators
Jim Wallis (Sojourners)

While I affirm the value of dialogue, I couldn't help but notice one glaring difference between the Muslim document, and the Christian document. At one point early in the Muslim letter, they write the following:

In the Holy Qur’an, God Most High enjoins Muslims to issue the following call to Christians (and Jews—the People of the Scripture):

Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him). (AalImran 3:64)

The words: we shall ascribe no partner unto Him relate to the Unity of God, and the words: worship none but God, relate to being totally devoted to God.

They go on to state:

There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.

In the Christian letter, the following sentence can be found:

“…and work diligently together to reshape relations between our communitites and our nations so that they genuinely reflect our common love for God and for one another.”

Notice how the Muslims are quoting (and re-affirming) a passage from the Qur'an that targets the Christian concept of the Trinity ("no partner"). Thus, in their letter, the Muslim authors recognize the differing conceptions and definitions of the Christian vs the Muslim God. Furthermore, the passage they cite is explicitly evangelistic. In other words, it is calling Christians to give up their Trinitarian conception of God and convert to Islam.

In the Christian letter, no such distinctions can be found (nor will one find a trace of evangelistic spirit). In fact, the authors of that letter seem to intentionally avoid anything in their letter that would clarify a distinction between the Islamic and Christian faith. The sentence quoted about actually references our (Christian & Muslim's) "common love for God".

Really? Do we share a "common love". If there God is defined one way (non-Trinitarian), and our God defined another (Trinitarian), in what sense is there a "common love" for God between Muslim and Christian.
Certainly we both possess a love for our respective God, and this love may be similar in its expression, intentionality, and intensity.

I am glad to see dialogue take place. However, I am afraid we have compromised before the dialogue has even begun. Once we gave up our concept of God, we lost our voice before we even had a chance to speak.

Perhaps Christians can learn something from the other major religions of the world. They are not afraid to say who they are, what they believe, and why they believe it. The Muslims clearly drew a line in the sand by saying (1) God is not a Trinity, and (2) the Muhammadian conception of God is the only God. They seem to believe that genuine dialogue can take place even in the context of rigidly holding on to their definition of God and fundamentals of the faith. For some reason, many Christians think we can only dialogue when we leave our faith, and apparently our conceptions of the uniqueness of the Christian God, at the door.